TALLADEGA, Ala. — A weekend that started with its cars starting at the front ended in disappointment for Hendrick Motorsports’ three playoff teams and left each essentially in a must-win situation next weekend at Kansas Speedway.
Blaney’s victory assures him a spot in the next round, joining Kyle Larson, who won last weekend at Dover.
Bowman, Elliott and Byron — along with Clint Bowyer — are all outside the cutoff spot. Bowman is 18 points behind Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points and Byron is 27 points behind Logano.
While anything is possible, it will be difficult for any of the Hendrick cars to outpoint Logano for the final spot at Kansas.
“We’ve got three cars that really need to win to get in,” Jeff Andrews, director of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, told NBC Sports. “I think the points thing right now is kind of irrelevant. The focus is to win.”
Should all three Hendrick cars fail to advance after next weekend’s race, it would leave Chevrolet one driver left (Larson) in championship contention.
That’s why there was so much posturing by Chevrolet this weekend, including its meeting with drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors after the race had been stopped Sunday because of rain. While teams within each manufacturer know to work with each other whenever possible, Chevrolet’s focus was on trying to help its three playoff cars advance.
Instead, they all face long odds.
Alex Bowman’s race ended when he triggered an 11-car crash by blocking Logano two laps from the end of the second stage.
“I just misjudged how much of a run (Logano) had there,” Bowman said. “That’s on me. These cars are tough to see out of and I didn’t do a good job of it. Probably shouldn’t have attempted to block that.”
Bowman finished 37th.
As for his plan at Kansas?
“We’re just going to go lead the most laps, win both stages and win the race,” Bowman said.
Byron was next to exit Monday, eliminated when he was hit from behind by Kurt Busch. Byron finished 33rd.
“It was just cars everywhere, drafting at 200 mph,” Busch said.
Byron said the contact was an “accordion effect (after) I had kind of lost momentum for whatever reason.”
While Elliott finished eighth, his car was damaged in the crash triggered by Bowman’s block of Logano. Elliott also failed to score any stage points.
“Just a train wreck,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said of the team’s day. “I don’t know what else to say about it.”
There really wasn’t much to say for Hendrick’s drivers except they need to win now.