LOUDON, N.H. (AP) Jimmie Johnson smacked the wall first and Chase Elliott quickly followed the champion’s miscalculated route when his car slammed into about the same spot. The Hendrick Motorsports drivers traded their Chevrolets for John Deere golf cart rides to the medical center.
Even on routine laps in practice, the hits kept coming Friday at Hendrick Motorsports.
At first glance, team owner Rick Hendrick’s organization, long the class of NASCAR, has had a nice season with three drivers in NASCAR’s 16-car playoff field.
But Hendrick hasn’t been much of a player this season, winning just four races in a season of major transition behind the scenes and in the car. Hendrick gave underachieving Kasey Kahne the boot, effective at the end of the season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has trudged through a forgettable final season. Chase Elliott is still winless in his Cup career and his career-best finish last week at Chicagoland was tainted because his team cheated.
In the tale of the tape, only seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has had a decent season. But even his stats come with a bit of an asterisk: Johnson’s three wins are his only three top-five finishes this season.
”This year has been tough for our company,” Johnson said Friday. ”Last year was tough, but we found a way still to get to the championship and the head table in Las Vegas. This year has been tough again, but there is a lot of change going on internally. I think directionally, we’re making some great changes and obviously the addition of the two new drivers will shuffle the deck a bit.”
New Hampshire hardly seems like an elixir to get the team rolling – Hendrick drivers have led just 14 laps at the track over the last seven races.
Elliott suffered a setback to his championship hopes when NASCAR penalized the No. 24 team for a modification to his Chevrolet in the opening round of the playoffs. The finish is now considered ”encumbered” by NASCAR and Elliott does not keep a playoff point he earned with a stage victory at Chicagoland.
Crew chief Alan Gustafson was fined $25,000 and suspended one race, and car chief Joshua Kirk also was suspended one race. The team was docked 15 driver points and 15 owner points.
Other playoff drivers were not impressed with the decision.
”That was a big penalty,” playoff driver Ryan Newman said to laughter.
Denny Hamlin, who had Xfinity and Cup wins at Richmond ruled encumbered by NASCAR, called the penalty levied against Elliot, ”a misdemeanor.”
”NASCAR didn’t deem that a very big penalty, so there must not have been any intent there. I guess it was all an accident,” he said.
The loss in driver points dropped Elliott from sixth place to eighth place in the postseason standings. There are two races remaining in the opening round of the playoffs.
The issue with Elliott’s car surrounded a piece of tape applied to the rear spoiler in what other teams believed was an effort to gain more downforce. Photos and videos were presented to NASCAR that appeared to not only show the tape, but also a crew member removing the tape following the race.