All could be considered well inside the walls of the Hendrick Motorsports camp right now. Kyle Larson is coming off of a win in last Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway locking his No. 5 Chevrolet into the owners championship Final Four. Also, with 3 spots still left on the drivers side too, HMS has 2 of those 3 spots. Can they hold onto them after Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN)?
HMS has won three of the last four at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway including five of the last eight Fall races there at that.
Plus, Chase Elliott and William Byron have been en fuego on this track lately too.
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. He also has four Top-5’s in his last seven Martinsville starts, three of them being in the top two.
William 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.
Elliott has just two Top-10s in his last eight races including finishes of 32nd, first, 20th, 21st and 14th respectively the last five weeks. Byron has finishes of 12th, 16th, 13th and 12th the last four weeks himself with just one Top-5 finish in the last 26 points paying races.
“That’s what happens when you’re playing defense, and you have something like that happen to you. You just get stuck,” Elliott said on their gameplan last Sunday in Homestead which caught them out. “The other guys that got buried; they drove right back to the front. That’s just the difference. I think if we execute next weekend, we’ll be fine.”
Elliott came into last Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 with a simple plan – defend their position in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. They came into the day +17 and on a track that he’s never won at and on a season that he was backing his way into the race, why not take it easy and ensure they have a similar advantage in points heading to the Round of 8 elimination race the next week?
“We were playing defense all day, but we were doing a pretty good job of it and staying inside the top-five there, so that was great,” Elliott said.
The 2020 series champion started 3rd and finished 8th and 6th respectively in the two stages netting him 8 stage points. That was the good. However, he pit on Lap 208 as they decided to go off strategy and pit twice during the final stage.
Again, playing conservative and being on the defensive effort instead of on the offensive mindsest. It cost them. Ryan Blaney pit the same lap as Elliott and Blaney made a costly error by downshifting while exiting pit road and spun bringing out the 4th caution of the race.
It pinned Elliott a lap down and as a result, had to take the wave around just to get his lap back. Marred in traffic and dirty air, he could only muster a 14th place finish in the end.
For Byron, he won the pole and accumulated 17 stage points in the process. Then his car went away and he went from 5th to 13th and had to go off strategy and pit three laps prior to Elliott. That Blaney caution hurt him too.
“We just had one bad run,” Byron said. “We restarted second and kind of maintained in second for maybe a couple of laps, and then the car fell off and disappeared. That one run was just really weird, so we lost a lot of track position.”
Can they just turn it on all the sudden on Sunday?
For Elliott, maybe he can. He starts 2nd. Byron though will only come from 25th.