Hendrick Motorsports places two cars in top 10 but ‘still a lot of work to do’

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Three of its cars led, two finished in the top 10 and one placed fifth Sunday for Hendrick Motorsports, but Jeff Andrews, the team’s general manager, noted that there is “still a lot of work to do.”

Jimmie Johnson led the organization with his season-high fifth-place finish. It marked his first top five since last year’s Coca-Cola 600, which was 10 months ago.

William Byron matched his career best with a sixth-place finish. Chase Elliott was 13th, while Alex Bowman placed 18th in a backup car. Johnson (60 laps), Elliott (35) and Byron (15) combined to lead nearly a third of the 334-lap race.

“Our goal was to go out today and execute a clean race and take the cars we had starting up front there and keep them there all day,” Andrews told NBC Sports. “Certainly the way … the midway part of the race played out was strategy … and shuffled that up. The encouraging thing was that we were able to claw our way back up through there.”

Sunday marked the first time this season that Hendrick Motorsports placed two cars in the top 10. With Elliott’s runner-up finish last weekend at Martinsville and Johnson’s fifth on Sunday, it was the first time this year Hendrick cars have finished in the top five in consecutive weekends.

Andrews said the organization has worked in all areas from engine to aero to improve its cars this season.

“Certainly a good step for us, not all the way there by any means,” he said. “I think for everybody to feel a little bit better, we need to go to Kansas and some other intermediate tracks and have similar days.”

Johnson said the big difference was having a faster car. His No. 48 Chevrolet was quick in qualifying and practice and carried that through the race, leading the opening 59 laps from the pole. But when he got back in traffic, he struggled. It wasn’t as much as he did at Las Vegas, but there’s still work to do there.

“Driving way better in traffic,” Johnson said. “I think we found a really good direction. This was a great learning point for us. Vegas went so badly we kind of scrapped it all and started all over. Atlanta, scrapped it all and started over. Fontana was OK, still not what we needed. Now that we have not only the 48 running well, but all the cars had speed, we have a great foundation to build from.”

Byron said the speed difference was noticeable Sunday.

“Just faster cars,” he said. “We were faster down the straightaways and faster in the corners a little bit. It just felt like our cars were faster. It didn’t really handle that different, but we were quicker and able to make passes and drive away and that felt good.”