Sunday was not a very good day out of the Hendrick Motorsports camp at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Their top finisher was Noah Gragson in 11th. Kyle Larson was involved in that Lap 94 spat with Bubba Wallace and was 35th. William Byron and Chase Elliott had a largely uneventful day in coming home 13th and 21st respectively.
Should they be concerned now about their championship hopes? They have 2 of their 4 drivers left. Elliott is +17 in 3rd while Byron is -6 in 5th.
“I did a really bad job all weekend,” Elliott admitted of Las Vegas. “Not driving the car like it needs to be driven. Not being able to give good information to fix it. All-around poor effort on my behalf. When you perform that poorly, you get poor results. That’s how it works. We’ve got to get home and digest everything from today. We’ll see next week. I’ve got to do a lot better job driving the vehicle to have a chance for it to even matter.”
Elliott however says that he doesn’t get too high in the highs or low in the lows however. He truly lives each moment week by week.
“Yeah, I mean, I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” he said a few weeks ago. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.
“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. This deal can humble you. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”
For Byron, he too struggled in Vegas and is now below the cutline with 2 races left in the round ahead.
“Ultimately just struggled all day with the same thing,” he said. “Just kind of balancing. I’d run the middle OK the middle of the race, but as soon as the bottom and top came in, I wasn’t great in either one of those. I couldn’t get it on the bottom all day. I couldn’t make it work. Ultimately, kind of struggle of a day. So have to go to work for Homestead and try to get it better.”
Luckily for the duo, there’s some good tracks coming up for them.
Byron has won the last 2 visits at each. He won the 2021 race at Homestead and the spring race at Martinsville. At Darlington too, a track similar to Homestead, Byron had a car capable of winning the spring race and was in the Top-10 in the Southern 500 too.
For Elliott, Homestead may not go his way. While he has three Top-7’s in his last five Homestead starts, he’s also winless here as well as at Darlington too. He was fifth and 36th this past year at Darlington and 21st the last time out at Homestead.
Martinsville is likely his best chance at making the Championship 4. HMS in general has won three of the last four at Martinsville including five of the last eight Fall races there at that. Elliott won the pole and dominated the first two stages back in the spring before a pit road penalty relegated him to a Top-10 instead of a Top-5. Elliott won the 2020 Fall race en route to a Championship 4 appearance here too. He also has four Top-5’s in his last seven Martinsville starts, three of them being in the top two.
Byron picked up where Elliott left off in the spring. He finished second in both stages and led the final 212 laps for the win. Byron has five Top-8’s in his last six Martinsville starts including a runner-up in the playoff race in 2019, fourth and fifth respectively last year and a win in the spring race.
This could be their chance but can they get in before that?
They’re backing their ways into Homestead. 6 of Elliott’s last 8 starts on the season have seen him finish outside the top 10.
“I think it’s going to be a really tough round,” Elliott admitted after a 20th place finish in Charlotte. “Vegas was a struggle for us in the spring. Homestead, we’ve just been really hit-or-miss there. We did have a test there a couple weeks ago, so hopefully we’ve learned from that. Martinsville, it’s just going to be about how you qualify because I don’t see anybody passing there. We’ll see how it goes. Try to bring our A-game. It would have been nice to have some more points from today, but we didn’t and we’ll try again out in Las Vegas.”
Byron’s last 3 finishes have been 12th, 16th and 13th respectively. He four top 10’s in the opening four playoff races are the only ones he’s had in the last 16 points paying races. His 3rd place finish in Bristol is his only top 5 in the last 25 races. His last top 5 prior?
His Martinsville win in April.
The good news for he and Elliott, Homestead and Martinsville historically are good tracks for the organization. Also, 5 of the 8 years under this format saw the regular season champion march all the way to the Championship 4 including 4 of the last 5 years. In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. won the regular season title and didn’t win in the Round of 8 to get to the final round. Same for Kyle Busch in 2019. Kevin Harvick won in 2018 (Texas) and Kyle Larson won 2 of the 3 races in this round last year.