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April 8, 2024

Rick Hendrick reflects on Martinsville triumph, OT finish among teammates: ‘I’m glad they played nice’

Rick Hendrick says he cherished watching from afar as his four ruby-red cars ran at the front of the pack in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway. The enjoyment, however, took a plot-twisting turn when a late caution flag forced overtime.

William Byron emerged victorious from the final restart in Sunday’s Cook Out 400, the centerpiece race in Hendrick Motorsports’ 40th anniversary celebration. But Byron’s march to the checkered flag had its nervous moments for the 74-year-old team owner, watching from home as he continues his rehabilitation from recent knee-replacement surgery.

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Contact between Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet from Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy with fellow teammate Kyle Larson’s No. 5 in close pursuit prompted a vocal reaction from Hendrick as he watched the broadcast. Having watched teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson famously come up empty in a 2012 restart at the 0.526-mile track, Hendrick said seeing such scenarios “always knots your tummy up.”

“I think I was yelling a little bit like, ‘Oh, don’t, don’t, no, no, no!'” Hendrick said in a Monday availability. “You’ve got to let ’em race, but man, all I could see was them wrecking and maybe taking Larson with them, and then I’d be over — well, I couldn’t go over there today, but I’d be trying to settle everybody back down. I’m glad they played nice and raced each other clean.”

Hendrick Motorsports pulled out all the stops for its anniversary celebration at Martinsville, the site of the organization’s first victory with Geoff Bodine back in 1984. A crowd estimated at 1,500 Hendrick employees and their families watched from a hospitality area above Turn 2, and all four cars sported special commemorative paint schemes in a deep ruby red.

Hendrick, who was scheduled to be the honorary pace car driver for Sunday’s event, took in the race from home, just past the midpoint of a 6-8 week recovery period from a total replacement. He said he watched from home with his wife, daughter and grandchildren, plus Hendrick Companies president Marshall Carlson and Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith.

“It was such an unbelievable event, and I wanted to go in the worst kind of way,” Hendrick said. “It just didn’t work out. I hated it because it was such a big event, and then after we won, I really hated I wasn’t there.”

MORE: Hendrick Motorsports’ historic wins

Hendrick said his phone notifications “starting lighting up” in the moments after the checkered flag, with 240 text messages and 40-plus emails that he said are on his list to reply to. He said knee soreness has made sleeping difficult in recent days, so he awoke at nearly 2 a.m. Monday morning and started watching a replay of Sunday’s race.

He said he’s still coming to terms with Sunday’s victory and the 1-2-3 sweep of the podium.

“If you had one car that had a shot to win, you’d be really happy,” Hendrick said. “Man, it turns out we had multiple cars that could win the race. I’m still having a hard time believing it today. It was almost like divine intervention, just how in the world it all ended up like that on a day like that.”