What a year that it’s been for Hendrick Motorsports. They’ve won almost literally half (4) of the races (10) thus far. Then, if you look deeper at the places that they’ve won at, it goes to show you that not only is their dominance showing now, but it could later in the postseason too.
Las Vegas, Homestead, Martinsville and Phoenix make up the final four races of the season. The series has visited three of those four tracks already. HMS has won all three.
William Byron and Kyle Larson went 1-2 in Vegas. They combined to lead 239 of 271 laps (88.1%) that day. They were 1-2 in both stages as well as Alex Bowman giving them a 1-2-3 finish in Stage 2.
At Phoenix, Byron led 64 more laps in a win. Larson led 201 laps in a fourth-place run. That’s 265 of 317 laps led (83.5%) that day which included a 1-2 finish in each stage as well.
Then, two weeks ago in Martinsville, Larson won again.
What’s scary for the field is the fact that Larson dominated Homestead a year ago too which means HMS could be a massive favorite later in the year too. He also made mention after that Martinsville win that he feels like they’re close to being back to their 2021 success and that now, he’s even winning at places that he’s never had success at before either.
That’s great news.
However, they’ve also had a rough year in business too.
Two separate penalties that have cost them $400k, two of their interim crew chiefs fined $75k each and suspended two weeks and that comes after their four primary crew chiefs missed a month due to suspensions, to go along with Chase Elliott missing six races and now Bowman 3-4 weeks with his recent injury.
Bowman, who leads the Cup Series in average finish through 10 points-paying races in 2023, suffered the compression fracture in an accident Tuesday evening while competing in a sprint car event at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa. The 30-year-old driver was treated locally last night and evaluated again this morning in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Rick Hendrick has to be sitting back and looking at this business and be like, “what the heck is going on?”
We’re struggling to get our cars in compliance, we’re spending half of a million on fines, our crew chiefs are spending more time away from the track than at it and now I can’t keep all my drivers healthy. We’re battling this in the midst of a strong start to the season.
What more do you want?
It has to be frustrating. Which leads me to believe how much Hendrick will allow his drivers to do extracurricular activities anymore. In most contracts, there’s things that are forbidden to do. HMS has since softened his stance.
Hendrick as an example used to frown upon his drivers racing outside of a Cup car. In getting Kyle Larson, he’s since laxed that line of thinking. Now I wonder…
Elliott’s snowboarding incident didn’t deter his thoughts, but now another driver out due to a sprint car crash has to make him consider changing his stance, especially in a dirt car series that Kyle Larson owns and is racing in.
Everyone took jabs at Joe Gibbs to not allowing Christopher Bell to race on dirt anymore but Gibbs has to be sitting back right now and saying, “told you so.”
Most drivers have told me that racing away from Cup is beneficial to them. It keeps them fresh. Take it away and they could get stagnant only running once a week.
Plus, as practice time has dwindled, it’s a better way to stay in rhythm too.
On top of that, some say that other drivers’ hobbies may be fishing or hunting or playing video games or whatnot, these drivers are racers and racing on dirt or any other series is their hobby too. Do you really want to take them away from it?
Hendrick might have to.
Hendrick Motorsports is the pinnacle of NASCAR right now and has a championship to lose but if they’re not careful, they could easily take themselves out of it.
Elliott has to likely win in order to make it into the postseason. He’s not guaranteed to be in it. Bowman’s 60 point penalty from their Richmond infraction and now missing 3-4 weeks could force him to play behind the eight ball.
I mean what if he doesn’t win a race and what if we see the parity like we did last season? Martin Truex Jr. was a top five in points driver and didn’t make it in. With these two factors between the points penalty and now injury, it will be hard for Bowman to make it that far up in points.
That could easily put Elliott and Bowman on the outside looking into the playoffs if they don’t win. Then, even if they do win, they’re likely going to miss out on the extra playoff bonus points for the top 10 finishers in the regular season points standings.
That’s why the start to this season has to be frustrating for Hendrick.