Jimmie Johnson only led once Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, a 10-lap stint interrupted by a 3 hour and 18 minute rain delay.
But even after the green flag returned on Lap 17, Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet remained a constant force near the front of the field in one of Hendrick Motorsports’ strongest showings in recent memory.
While Alex Bowman claimed the first win of his Cup career, Johnson brought his car home with a fourth-place finish., his best result through 17 races.
That came after Johnson finished fourth in Stage 1 and fifth in Stage 2, earning 13 much-needed stage points as he battled with the likes of Kevin Harvick at the front.
“It was just a solid performance for our Ally team,” Johnson said. “I’m really proud of everyone. I just couldn’t clear the No. 4 car (Kevin Harvick) when he was so on-track and the car to beat and I think he was probably the strongest car tonight. The way some of those restarts unfolded, the No. 88 (Alex Bowman) had a great opportunity with the draft and working very well and got the lead. Once he had that control, there’s really no taking it from him.”
Johnson was “extremely happy for Hendrick Motorsports,” whose last four wins dating back to August of last year had come from Chase Elliott.
“I can’t wait to see Alex and congratulate him and this No. 48 team is smiling,” Johnson said. “It was a good night.”
Johnson leaves Chicago with a 20-point advantage over the final cutoff spot for the playoffs. He entered the race one point behind the cutoff.
William Byron also turned in an impressive run in his No. 24 Chevrolet, placing eighth and earning his fifth top 10 of the year, topping his four from last year.
Byron started from the rear due to an engine change, but managed an eighth-place finish in Stage 1.
Early in Stage 2, Byron mixed it up with Johnson and Harvick at the front before charging by Harvick for the lead on Lap 99. He then led nine of the next 10 laps before he plummeted outside the top 10 on a Lap 108 restart.
He was able to make his way back to seventh by the end of the stage.
Byron has four top 10s in the last seven races and he has led 97 laps in that stretch.
“Alex (Bowman) and those guys were really fast,” Byron said. “Congrats to them. They did a great job.
“I just have to close in on those details a little bit more. We, as a team, are really close. It’s a little disappointing now that we have the speed that we do, but it’s good to take the lead at some point in the race. I think that’s six or seven in a row for that, so we just have to continue to do that. It’s good for Alex and hopefully we can piggy-back on that.”