Seventeen years, 83 wins, seven championships and an eighth on his mind. Jimmie Johnson knows his way around NASCAR’s premier series.
Such experience will be helpful when Johnson, 42, is the leader of what will be one of NASCAR’s youngest teams at Hendrick Motorsports next season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring and Kasey Kahne was not asked back for the final year of his contract. Kahne, 37, will drive for the single-car Leavine Family Racing organization next year.
William Byron and Alex Bowman are filling the vacant seats. Bowman is 24 and Byron will turn 20 before the Daytona 500 in February. They join Johnson and Chase Elliott, who will be 22 next year for his third season of full-time racing in the Cup series.
“William and Alex are eager to get going and I think both would love to run Cup races this year if we could find the right situation for them,” Johnson said Friday. “They’re going to be great assets to the team, we just need to get them laps, get them in the car, start understanding their vocabulary … build that foundation and get going.”
A younger team is hardly a bad thing, Elliott said.
“It’s opportunity. Nobody can drive forever, I’m not going to drive forever. At some point you’ve got to move on,” he said. “The way Alex ran last year when he was subbing for Dale, you don’t just come in and run like that and not get an opportunity to continue forward with it. … William, with the way he’s run this year in Xfinity, I think he’s proven to everybody that he knows what he’s doing. With all the dynamics that go on in a company like Hendrick Motorsports, I think they had to make decisions.”
Bowman filled in for Earnhardt in both races at Loudon last year while Earnhardt battled concussion symptoms. He competed in 10 races last year, earning one pole and three top-10 finishes.
Three Hendrick drivers made the playoffs between Johnson, Kahne and Elliott, but their run through the season lacked the dominant power Hendrick…