Johnson admits that when the checkered flag flew in the season finale in Miami less than two weeks ago “I couldn’t find a beer fast enough and started popping some cold ones to try to forget a tough close to the end of the season.’’
While Hendrick placed three drivers in the playoffs — Johnson, Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne — the organization’s four wins were its fewest in a season since 2000.
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Johnson won three races but none after his June victory at Dover. Kahne won the Brickyard 400, which was his only top-10 finish in a 19-race stretch. Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t have a finish better than fifth. Elliott had five runner-up finishes but remains winless.
Elliott called those runner-up results “learning the hard way, but you definitely do learn things from those situations. I definitely have. I can probably say I’ve learned more from the second-place finishes this year than I did the ones last year.’’
Now, Hendrick heads into a season of change.
‘It’s definitely going to be different for sure,’’ Elliott said this week in Las Vegas of the 2018 look for Hendrick Motorsports. “I think the guys that are coming over in Alex and William, they’ve proven that they know how to race. They don’t need any help to be good race car drivers. They’re going to win races and be contenders, I have no doubt.’’
That’s just among a series of changes for the team. The organization announced in August eight leadership promotions.
“Obviously 2018 is right around the corner and internally we have a lot going on at Hendrick Motorsports, not only the two drivers that are coming in but the way we produce cars, where crew chiefs live, how our engineering department functions and where they’re located,’’ Johnson said this week in Las Vegas. “All of that is shifting around right now, there’s a little bit of construction taking place at Hendrick. Lump all that together with the new car that we have with the Camaro that is coming out in 2018. We need to learn lessons from last year, but we have a lot to look forward to moving into 2018.’’
The Camaro ZL1 will make its debut in Daytona. Chevrolet teams hope the new car will be as strong as Toyota’s updated Camry this past season when it won 16 races, including eight of the 10 playoffs races and helped Martin Truex Jr. to the championship.
“I think everyone has done their homework from that perspective,’’ Elliott said of the new car. “I’ve put a lot of trust in my guys and the people at HMS and Chevrolet to make those right decisions and everyone feels like they have, so we’ll find out.’’
It adds to a lot of change for an organization that seeks more victories.
“I think that the changes taking place for us is change in the right direction, is going to bring the company closer together, produce a better product, more competitive cars,’’ Johnson said. “I’m really looking forward to 2018. The decisions we’re making now will have a director improvement on 2018, but I think as we stack a couple of years on it will only strengthen further out.’’