Last week’s All-Star Race at Bristol was an oasis in the middle of a drought for Hendrick Motorsports.
Chase Elliott held off Kyle Busch to win his first All-Star Race and claim the $1 million prize. But in Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, it was back to an unfortunate norm for the organization that’s won just twice in 18 points races this year.
The Texas race saw two HMS drivers, Alex Bowman and William Byron, eliminated by wrecks. A third Jimmie Johnson, finished 26th and 12 laps off the lead pace due to a Stage 2 incident. That left Elliott, who has one win this year, to finish 12th for his fifth finish outside the top 10 in the last six races.
Aside from the second Pocono race, where Elliott, Byron and Bowman all placed in the top 10, Hendrick has failed to have a driver finish in the top 10 in four of the last five points races. That includes at Indianapolis where Justin Allgaier drove in Johnson’s place and was eliminated due to an early pit road crash.
Hendrick takes their struggles to Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. Thursday on NBCSN), the 1.5-mile track where they led all teams in top-10 finishes last year (six).
In last year’s Kansas playoff race, Elliott was second, Byron was fifth, Johnson was 10th and Bowman placed 11th. In the first Kansas race, Bowman was second, Elliott was fourth, Johnson was sixth and Byron placed 20th.
The current five-race stretch, where Hendrick has led only 45 laps, is a stark comparison to the first 13 races of 2020. In those races Hendrick failed to put a car in the top 10 only once, in the Daytona 500.
While Elliott, Bowman and Byron’s last top 10s came at Pocono, it’s been seven starts since Johnson’s most recent, a 10th-place finish at Martinsville.
Elliott goes to Kansas hoping to earn his fifth top five in his last six starts there.
Byron will try to build on his top five at Kansas last fall, which followed three finishes of 20th or worse there. He’ll do so with Keith Rodden serving as his crew chief as Chad Knaus awaits the birth of his daughter.
Johnson will try to earn his third consecutive Kansas top 10 and his fourth career win at the track. His last victory at the 1.5-mile track was in 2015. He hasn’t led a lap there in his last eight starts.
Bowman will make his sixth start at Kansas for Hendrick. He has three top 10s and two finishes of 11th or worse in the first five starts. He led a total of 70 laps in last year’s races, with 63 coming in the spring race.