Hendrick Motorsports has won 10 of the 20 NASCAR Cup Series races this season, including an overly successful span of seven victories in the last eight events. Sunday’s latest stat-stretcher was led by a resounding win by Chase Elliott, who rose to late-race prominence at Road America to fortify his road-course resume.
The organization that’s led the way in performance this season kept that perch in Sunday’s Jockey Made in America 250 presented by Kwik Trip, adding to benchmarks set recently and in the long term. Elliott now sits alone in third place on NASCAR’s all-time road course win list, leading all active Cup Series drivers with seven career victories on the tour’s twisty layouts. Hendrick Motorsports accounts for 23 road-course wins — that all-time mark propelled not only by Elliott’s tally but by Jeff Gordon’s record nine victories on that track type.
Most of the races during Hendrick’s recent tear have featured its supporting cast elbowing its way into the remaining podium spots for 1-2 finishes or better. Not so Sunday, though, as all three of Elliott’s teammates found trouble in Turn 5. William Byron overcooked the hard left-hander on Lap 49 of 62, knocking him back to an eventual result in 33rd. With six laps remaining, Alex Bowman’s brake-less No. 48 Chevrolet barreled into Kyle Larson’s No. 5, hampering both. Larson plugged on to finish 16th with Bowman 22nd.
That misfortune allowed Joe Gibbs Racing front-runners to fill the podium gaps. Christopher Bell regained some long-lost spark in second place, and teammate Kyle Busch continued his resurgence in third. Those inroads by JGR and other organizations in close pursuit are what’s kept Hendrick Motorsports pushing forward, even while atop the heap.
“We all understand the ebb and the flow of the way the performance circle is in motorsports,” said Chad Knaus, Hendrick’s vice president of competition. “It’s our job right now to continue to try to execute at a high level, continue to try to find advantages with our race cars. But we know that the Gibbs guys and the Penske guys, everybody else in the industry, is doing the exact same thing.
“We’ve got to stay on point. We can’t sit back. We may have had one car win today, but we had other cars that didn’t. We understand the importance of continuing to push. Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports right now is doing that. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Hendrick’s teamwork spirit was likely at its collegial peak at Dover in May, when the organization went 1-2-3-4 in the finishing order to kick off its recent eight-race romp. But when teams compete in close enough quarters, invariably contact can — and usually does — result.
Such was Sunday’s outcome, when hard racing on the demanding 4.048-mile circuit cost Bowman his braking power, triggering the Turn 5 tangle. Post-race, the two met on pit road for a brief discussion that was low on the drama scale. Knaus says he intends to keep it that way.
“I don’t think there’s anything for us to be concerned about from a management standpoint at Hendrick Motorsports,” Knaus said. “There’s a tremendous amount of respect between our drivers, crew chiefs and teams. It was unfortunate. It was a racing situation. But we’ll get home, talk about it, make sure there’s nothing ill willed that comes out of this.”
On Sunday at least, the run-in sparked no perceptible animosity, and — more importantly for Elliott — no caution period. Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Elliott’s No. 9 team, was thankful for the latter as his driver steamed on during the final green-flag stretch to pad the organization’s already impressive stats.
“Those are tough circumstances,” Gustafson said of the Bowman-Larson incident. “Hey, man, those guys do a great job. We’ve got great teammates. Guys that we genuinely like to race with. It happens. Not what any of us wanted to see. It’s not what he wanted to see or the 5 or us certainly. Fortunately for us, it didn’t impede our progress.”