Hendrick Motorsports’ start to season shows they ‘have come to play’


After struggling to record strong finishes on 1.5-mile tracks last season, Hendrick Motorsports has rebounded to win the first two races on such tracks this year.

“Certainly, the Hendrick guys have come to play,” Kyle Busch said after finishing third to Kyle Larson on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Success on 1.5-mile tracks remains pivotal despite the addition of several road course races this season. Three of the last seven races in the Cup playoffs are at 1.5-mile tracks. Two of those playoff races are in the penultimate round. A win in those races can advance a driver to the title race.

MORE: Las Vegas winners and losers

Brad Keselowski, who finished second to Larson on Sunday, isn’t surprised by Hendrick’s resurgence.

“I think there’s no secret that the Chevys have had a number of down years,” Keselowski said. “With that comes adjustments. The Chevy camp made some big adjustments.

“I think last year or maybe the year before last with the body on the car, they got better. Made a big adjustment this year with the engines, probably took a step up. Across the board, they look pretty strong. Those are some significant upgrades, and they’re making the most of them.

Larson’s victory came a week after William Byron won at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It’s a significant turnaround for Hendrick Motorsports from last season. Consider:

  • Hendrick Motorsports ranked fourth among organizations in the 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks after the sport resumed in May from the COVID-19 pause.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing (three wins), Team Penske (two) and Stewart-Haas Racing (two) each had more wins in those 10 races last year than Hendrick (one).
  • Hendrick also ranked behind those teams in top fives and top 10s in those races a year ago. Joe Gibbs Racing had nearly three times as many top fives as Hendrick’s six. JGR also had nearly twice as many top 10s as Hendrick’s 13.

“I think you build momentum slowly in this sport,” car owner Rick Hendrick said.

In Sunday’s race, Hendrick drivers showed their speed. Larson ranked first in the the number of fastest laps. Teammate William Byron ranked second. Hendrick’s Chase Elliott was fourth in that category.

“We knew it was going to take a lot of prep work to get here,” crew chief Cliff Daniels said after Larson’s win. “We’ve done that every week. Kyle is in the shop three days a week just poring through notes with us, looking at video, looking at data.

“Our guys have done a nice job to help get him prepared, and likewise he’s done a nice job of just giving us sensations he needs to feel, things he’s felt in the past and how he would like to car to respond in certain situations.”

Winning the first two races does not mean Hendrick will be the dominant organization. Team Penske was strong at Las Vegas. Keselowski finished second, Ryan Blaney was fifth and Joey Logano was ninth. Keselowski ranked second in green flag speed in Sunday’s race, while Blaney was third.

“For whatever reason, we’ve just always been really good here at Team Penske,” Keselowski said. “This year was no exception.”

Joe Gibbs Racing had all four of its cars finish in the top 10 with Busch third, Denny Hamlin fourth, Martin Truex Jr. sixth and Christopher Bell seventh. This marked the fourth time in the last six races on 1.5-mile tracks that JGR had two drivers place in the top five. Even so, work remains.

“These tracks are really tough, it’s a real big guessing game on what cars to bring and what kind of approach to take,” Truex said. “You kind of get guessing on a lot of different things – the weather, the wind and all this kind of stuff.

“Overall, I think our cars were decent. We definitely have to find some more speed to run with some of those guys. I would say for us, we were probably a little bit off from where we were last weekend. Definitely some stuff to build on for all of us across the board.”

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.