hendrick motorsports

Richmond winners and losers

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WINNERS

Joe Gibbs Racing — It was a 1-2-3-4 finish until Erik Jones’ car failed inspection. Still the team scored a 1-2-3 finish and claimed its fourth consecutive win on a short track with Martin Truex Jr.’s triumph. Don’t forget, the organization also won Friday’s Xfinity race with Christopher Bell.

Ryan Newman His fifth-place finish tied his best result of the year and was his third consecutive top-10 showing. He was encouraged by the team running toward the front and noted: “You take away those four Gibbs cars, we were racing for the win. I know it doesn’t work that way, but if they would have had one bad meeting (incident) we would’ve been in the hunt.” Still, Newman moved into a transfer spot heading into this coming weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Brad KeselowskiHe finished fourth and was the only driver outside of Joe Gibbs Racing to lead Saturday’s race.

Bubba Wallace His 12th-place finish was his third top-15 result in the last five races. He had one top-15 finish in the first 23 races of the season.

Front Row Motorsports — All three of its cars placed 21st or better, the first time the team has accomplished that feat this season. David Ragan was 19th, rookie Matt Tifft placed 20th and Michael McDowell was 21st.

LOSERS

Erik Jones He was feeling good about his fourth-place finish that put him within three points of the final transfer spot to the next round only to later find out that his car was disqualified for failing inspection after the race. Now he’s 45 points out of the final transfer spot and is essentially in a must-win situation. He faces being eliminated from the first round of the playoffs for a second year in a row.

William Byron Got lapped in the final circuits before the end of each stage and also had a pit road speeding penalty. That led to a season-worst 25th-place finish. He holds the final transfer spot to the second round by two points on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman heading to the Roval.

Bump and Run: Will Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance continue?

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Who you got this weekend at Richmond? Joe Gibbs Racing or the field?

Nate Ryan: Joe Gibbs Racing. Any of its four drivers can win. Kyle Larson is a decent dark horse, though.

Dustin Long: I’ll take the field. Give me Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and others vs. JGR this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll take JGR, given their six wins there in the last eight races. Driver specific: Martin Truex Jr. He’s led in five of the last six visits to Richmond and each time he’s led at least 121 laps. Hard to believe his win in the spring was his first there.

Jerry Bonkowski: This could be one very difficult race for the field. Erik Jones has something to prove after the mechanical issues he suffered in Las Vegas, Kyle Busch has something to prove after his disappointing 19th-place finish, and Denny Hamlin has something to prove to show he truly is one of the best championship contenders. Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr. can basically coast through having secured his spot in Round 2 of the playoffs with his Las Vegas win. Good luck to the field because they’re going to need it. Joe Gibbs Racing is going to dominate Richmond.

 

In 2007, Hendrick Motorsports won 18 of 36 Cup races. Joe Gibbs Racing has won 14 of 27 Cup races this season. Will JGR top what Hendrick did in 2007?

Nate Ryan: Yes, you could argue JGR already has topped it because of the balance among its four drivers. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson accounted for 16 of Hendrick’s 18 victories.

Dustin Long: JGR won’t tie or top Hendrick mark.

Daniel McFadin: I think there’s a good chance JGR will tie that number but not exceed it. The only tracks I would make them locks for wins are Richmond and Phoenix. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I think JGR could potentially tie HMS’s record, but asking for five or more wins in the last nine playoff races is a bit of a stretch. You know that Stewart-Haas, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Roush Fenway Racing are going to do all they can to stop the JGR Express and continue to ratchet up the pressure and performance with each passing race. I can see JGR winning maybe three or even four more playoff races, but not more than that.

 

The Xfinity playoffs begin this weekend at Richmond. Who are you picking to win the championship?

Nate Ryan: Leaning toward Tyler Reddick back-to-back after his impressive fuel-mileage win at Las Vegas. He is learning to beat the field in many ways.

Dustin Long: Christopher Bell triumphs in Miami.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Tyler Reddick to repeat. He’s shown a knack for being able to find multiple ways to win when he doesn’t have the outright best car on a given race day. Also, it’s hard to bet against the guy who has 20 top fives through 26 races.

Jerry Bonkowski: As much as Tyler Reddick would make a great repeat champion, the title this year goes to Christopher Bell. But don’t be surprised if this deal isn’t finished until the final turn on the last lap. This has the potential to be the most exciting championship finish in Xfinity history.

 

William Byron rallies to score top 10 in first Cup playoff race

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LAS VEGAS — William Byron called his first Cup playoff race “crazy.”

Contact with Ryan Blaney, a spin after a tire went down, help from a teammate to stay on the lead lap and a different pit strategy were all events in Byron’s seventh-place finish Sunday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He was one of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers to finish in the top 10. Chase Elliott was fourth and Alex Bowman placed sixth.

Byron’s day allowed him to gain four spots in the points — most among the playoff drivers — and go from 13th, outside a cutoff spot, to ninth with two races left in the opening round. The series races at Richmond next.

But Byron’s top 10 wouldn’t have happened had he and his Chad Knaus-led team not persevered during an up-and-down night.

“You think about all the things that can go wrong in a race,” Byron said. “It’s tough. You’ve got to really manage the whole race and recover through things that happen. It seems like every car had something happen during this race. You’ve got to recover from it.”

Byron had been running in the top 10 when he had contact with Blaney on the restart to begin the final stage.

“I’ll be honest with you, I just heard about it,” Blaney said after finishing fifth. “I didn’t even know that I touched him. It must have been barely. Obviously, it wasn’t intentional. I was just trying to slow him down. I didn’t know that I got him. I feel bad for it. Obviously I didn’t  mean to get him. Just trying to sidedraft hard. That’s definitely not what I meant to do.”

Even so, the contact led to a tire rub. While Byron continued to run, the situation got worse and the tire went flat. He spun just before entering pit road to bring out the caution on Lap 182.

Byron quickly made it down pit road after the spin. Knaus had the team change the two left side tires to keep Byron on the lead lap. It helped that Elliott was leading. Elliott backed off behind the pace car down the frontstretch, giving Byron a cushion to exit the pits and remain on the lead lap. That allowed Byron to return to the pits on the next lap and change four tires and add fuel.

“I definitely owe him a big thank you,” Byron said of Elliott. “It was great that we were able to stay on the lead lap there.”

With a caution a few laps later, Byron was 22nd. Knaus brought Byron down pit road to add fuel and change four tires. Few cars stopped then. Knaus’ strategy allowed Byron to stay out longer than most cars and lead six laps before pitting on Lap 236 of the 267-lap race. Needing less fuel, the team only changed two tires for a quicker stop and that helped Byron score his second consecutive top 10.

It also helped how well the Hendrick cars ran, something Elliott, sixth in the points, noted afterward.

“I felt like we were closer today than we have been in the past few weeks,” said Elliott, who overcame contact on a restart that forced him to pit to fix a tire rub. “That was nice. Hopefully we can have cars like that the next nine weeks.”

Bowman said his car improved after early struggles.

“We just didn’t fire off very good,” he said. “As the race ran, we got our car much better. I think kind of the in-between from day to night was the best we were. When it grouped up there at the end, it helped out some of the other cars. But, proud of my guys. I wish we would have gotten some more stage points, but we’ll take sixth.”

Bowman fell to 11th in points. He’s 10 points ahead of Ryan Newman in 13th. The top 12 after the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval in two weeks will be eliminated.

Rick Hendrick: Jimmie Johnson ‘super on fire’ despite missing playoffs

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When the Cup Series playoffs begin Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Hendrick Motorsports will have three of its four drivers contending for the title.

But for the first time in NASCAR’s postseason, which debuted in 2004, those drivers will not include Jimmie Johnson. His 15-year streak of competing in the playoffs ended last weekend in the Brickyard 400 with a wreck that kept him from securing a playoff spot.

Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive,” owner Rick Hendrick was adamant it shouldn’t have happened.

“For whatever reason, we shouldn’t have been in that situation,” Hendrick said. “I mean the way the car’s been running, we should not have been there. But I tell you what, it’s fired him up and the team up.”

Hendrick, who has been Johnson’s owner for his entire Cup career, described what he’s seen out of Johnson over the last few races as he and new crew chief Cliff Daniels tried to get Johnson into the 16-driver playoff field.

“There’s two ways you can accept that,” Hendrick said. “One: It’s unbelievable and now you just bump into neutral and run along. Or you’re kind of pissed off and mad at yourself, mad at the environment and you got something you want to prove and that’s the way Jimmie and Cliff are now. I see more fire in Jimmie Johnson here of late than I’ve seen in a long time. Not that he’s ever not been on fire, but the commitment, the energy, what he’s doing with the team … you can see it in his eyes, he does not want to be looked at as he can’t get it done anymore.”

From his perspective, Hendrick said making the playoffs wasn’t Johnson’s main goal. It was putting an end to the longest winless streak of his career, which stands at 85 races, two more than the number of wins he’s earned in his career.

“It’s hard to explain this,” Hendrick said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “He’s more interested in winning a race than he was in making the playoffs. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll probably listen to this and say ‘Where did he get that from?’

“Just knowing him for all these years and seeing what he does behind the wheel and his voice and the communication between he and his crew chief, I’ve seen it more in the last four or five races, three races anyway, that he is just super on fire.”

This was further exemplified Sunday after Johnson was eliminated from the race.

“He told me after Indy, ‘I wish we were going to Vegas tonight on the plane,'” Hendrick said. “That’s the burning desire that he has and the team has and the whole organization has. We’re not use to being in that position and we don’t accept that very well.”

While Johnson hasn’t been able to put together a completely clean race in the five races he’s been paired with Daniels, Hendrick has reason to feel good about their pairing moving forward.

“It’s only been five weeks I think, but boy they are clicking, they’re on the same page,” Hendrick said. “I listen to him on the radio and it sounds like the team back when they were winning championships.”

Indianapolis winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kevin HarvickScored his third win in the last seven races. And got car owner Tony Stewart to climb the fence once again at Indy. Win also helps Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team build momentum just in time for the playoffs.

Bubba WallaceFinished a season-best third on Sunday. His two career top-five finishes are a second in the 2018 Daytona 500 and a third at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Clint BowyerOvercame bubble pressure to post top-10 finishes in each of the last three regular-season races. Could he go from one of the last in to one of the last remaining in the playoffs?

Ryan NewmanSnapped a five-race streak of finishes outside the top 10 with an eighth-place finish to secure the final playoff spot.

Jeb Burton Matched his career high with a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s Xfinity race and was overcome with emotion afterward. Burton is running a part-time schedule and seeks to run full-time again. He’ll be back with JR Motorsports at Texas and Miami.

LOSERS

Daniel SuarezHit the wall, hit a car and had other misfortune in failing to make the playoffs after entering Sunday’s race at Indianapolis in the final playoff spot.

Jimmie JohnsonHis remarkable streak of 15 consecutive years in the postseason ends after a year of struggles. His wreck while racing Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron for sixth place kept Johnson from having a chance to make the playoffs Sunday.

Cup car owners — Eight cars were eliminated by accidents in Sunday’s race. That’s more cars eliminated by crashes in the last four Cup races combined. Sunday proved expensive to some teams.