Just Like That, All Is Well Again at Hendrick Motorsports
Cross internecine feuding within the team off your list of top dramas, and ditch “parity” in the sport as an early-season storyline. Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson ran one-two on Sunday in Las Vegas, and suddenly all is well again at Hendrick Motorsports, the winningest outfit in NASCAR Cup Series history.
Yes, everything can change just that quickly in one week, one day, and even one caution flag.
Alex Bowman beat Kyle Larson to the finish line in Las Vegas
Alex Bowman prevailed in overtime on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by driving side-by-side with Kyle Larson for the better part of two laps and then muscling his way to the checkered flag in the Pennzoil 400.
The crew chiefs for the Hendrick Motorsports teammates made a crucial decision after Erik Jones, running in seventh place, slammed the wall on Lap 265 of the scheduled 267 on the 1.5-mile track. That triggered a yellow flag that turned the tide.
Kyle Busch, who had led 40 of the 45 preceding laps, opted to head to the pits to take four tires. However, the Hendrick cars only took two apiece, and Bowman, Larson, and William Byron came back onto the track at the front of the field for the green-white-checkered finish.
“I got lucky maybe with that call and lucky that we have Alex driving that thing, picking up on the restarts,” Bowman crew chief Greg Ives said. “He had a lot of confidence on restarts all day. It doesn’t come down to the last restart and say, ‘Yeah, I got confidence now.’ It comes down to every restart he was confident in the race car, in what he was capable of, and slowly got us to the point where two tires he wasn’t going to lose.”
The victory is Bowman’s seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series and comes on the heels of a four-win season in 2021 that ended with elimination from the playoffs after just three races.
Late drama for Hendrick Motorsports and Kyle Larson two weeks in a row
The conclusion of Sunday’s race was setting up as a where-have-I-seen-this-before scenario. A week ago at Fontana, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were setting up to battle for the victory in the closing laps when Larson went high and inadvertently put his Hendrick Motorsports teammate into the wall.
It made for angry words over the radio, tense talk in the respective trailers, and ultimately a major summit. Rick Hendrick rarely involves himself in day-to-day aspects, but he brought the four teams together and made sure everyone was on the same page.
That seemed to work fine all day, especially after Larson and Elliott said the right things in live prerace interviews, but then Hendrick cars began overtime holding down the top three spots. At least two of them were going to have to lose, and it could have turned out badly. Instead, Larson, who chose the outside lane on the restart, and Alex Bowman raced nearly door-to-door but held their lines while giving fans an exciting finish without scratching the paint.
Thus, the organization can move on to Phoenix with an uneasy truce making the segue into water under the bridge.
“I thought they raced one another clean but very aggressively. I talked to Kyle Larson there at the end. He said he was just trying really hard to get to the outside, stay on the outside of Alex, maybe even pushed it a little bit too hard, got the car tight.
“Alex, I was talking to him in Victory Lane, he’s like, I drove in there as hard as I possibly could. I wasn’t sure if it was going to stick, and it did.”Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports executive
Hendrick Motorsports puts the parity narrative to rest for now
One of the stories of the opening two weeks of the NASCAR Cup Series season was that the introduction of the Next Gen car had brought about the desired parity. The dismissal bell rang on that school of thought in Sunday’s race. Whereas at least eight organizations cracked the top 10 at Daytona and Auto Club Speedway, the big boys flexed some muscle in Las Vegas.
Kyle Larson picked up the victory a week earlier and settled for second this time out, with teammates William Byron and Chase Elliott placing fifth and ninth, respectively. Byron needed the result more than any of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers after wrecking a third of the way through Daytona and then three-quarters of the way through Fontana.
Aside from the Hendrick domination, however, Joe Gibbs Racing looked alive and well. The Toyotas of Kyle Busch (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (eighth), and Christopher Bell (10th) cracked the top 10, and Denny Hamlin might have joined them had he not bowed out with self-inflicted mechanical problems on Lap 221.
That’s two teams taking seven places in the top 10. Farewell parity, it was nice visiting with you.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.