Hendrick Motorsports has been the class of the NASCAR Cup Series field this season. While they may have only won two of the 11 races run now, they’ve also won a series leading 11 stages as well. The speed is bar none, better than any other team they’re lining up against. The problem is, they just can’t close.
On Wednesday night at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway, they showed that despite a rich history on the .526-mile short track, they’re still lacking in comparison to Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.
We all knew that Penske/JGR would be the cars to beat in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. They took four of the top five finishing spots in the spring race last year and four of the top five in the October race. They’ve also won five of the last six races on the Virginia paperclip as well entering Wednesday night’s race. That streak extends to six of the last seven as Penske/JGR combined to take the top four spots in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.
But, there the Hendrick cars were taking the rest of the spots in the top 10. Four of the five spots in the bottom half of the top 10 went to all four HMS cars.
Chase Elliott got everything he had in his car and led them with a fifth place finish in his No. 9 Chevrolet.
“I think we got everything out of our NAPA Chevy that we could tonight,” Elliott said. (Crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) did a good job making adjustments throughout the race, we just needed something to help us on the long runs. Hopefully learned some things that we can bring back here in the fall.”
That was his seventh top eight finish in his last nine starts on the season and his fourth top 10 in his last five Martinsville tries too. Alex Bowman was sixth in his No. 88 Chevrolet for his best career Martinsville finish and his first top 10 since the May 17 return at the Darlington Raceway.
“Man, it was a pretty good day for us for short track racing. Our ChevyGoods.com Camaro came home P-6,” Bowman said. “Really good for us at a short track with how we’ve struggled over the last two years. I’m so proud of my team for making improvements and we’ll go get them at Homestead!”
William Byron wound up eighth in his No. 24 Chevrolet for his second eighth place run in the last three races and just his third top 10 all year.
“P8. Not bad for going to the back twice,” said the third year driver. “Man, we’ve had to start in the back quite a few times lately, so got to clean that up. But, overall, we needed a good finish and got it. I feel like the short tracks for us have been good – three top-10’s is nice. Just got to clean it up, continue to progress and improve. We’ll go onto Homestead and hopefully have a shot at a top-five or a win there.”
Jimmie Johnson looked to be the best HMS car early as he led 70 laps on the night. He had a combined 28 laps led all season. He won his third stage of his career in his No. 48 Chevrolet in Stage 2 but his car faded over the second half of the race and would finish 10th.
Still, all of this gives HMS 80 top five finishes in Martinsville and 127 top 10’s. They’ve also led 9,195 laps there since 1984 too.
“We had a great car tonight and then just didn’t keep up with the track. My pit crew was on fire, they got me spots every time on pit road. We are gaining on it, so I wish the result was better but overall, still a positive night.”