Hendrick Motorsports

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Bristol

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

The Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway saw a lot of stop-and-go thanks to rain that caused Sunday’s event to be postponed to Monday, but not before the event was red flagged three times for weather.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stars went 204 laps before the remainder of the event got pushed to Monday, when a former champion and 11-year veteran scored their best finishes of the year.

Five different organizations are featured in this week’s top-5 for the first time this season.

No. 1 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson may have won this event one year ago, but immediately was put at a disadvantage when an unapproved tire change after qualifying forced the team to give up their starting position.

Johnson recovered to finish third at Bristol, giving the Hendrick Motorsports driver his first top-5 of the season. Johnson had not earned a top-5 since October of 2017 when he finished third at Dover.

Johnson sits 17th in the points standings, 196 points behind leader Kyle Busch. He is one point behind Paul Menard in the 16th position and 72 points from 10th place.

When will Johnson find victory lane? Can Richmond be that place? The 7-time champion has three wins at the three-quarter mile track.

No. 2 Kyle Larson – Kyle Larson may have been looking for redemption after an early crash at Texas took him out of contention, but it didn’t run as smoothly as the Chip Ganassi Racing driver hoped for.

Larson was leading when he spun on Lap 324 after receiving a bump from behind from Ryan Newman, but the 25-year-old recovered and re-took the lead on Lap 439. Larson battled with Busch for the remainder of the event, before falling to second in the closing laps.

Larson received stage points in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 after crossing the finish line in the fifth position. He sits ninth in the points standings, 116 points behind Busch.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola gained 16 positions from his finish at the half-mile track one year ago.

Almirola avoided trouble to earn a seventh place finish at Stage 1 end, but drifted to the back at midrace. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver ran as high as third before finishing sixth, earning his third top-10 of the season.

Almirola sits 11th in the points standings, 154 points behind Busch and 30 points behind teammate Kurt Busch, who is in the 10th position.

No. 4 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr quietly and consistently ran up front at Bristol, while earning his first top-5 of the season.

Stenhouse earned stage points in Stage 1 (ninth) and Stage 2 (sixth) during the event.

Stenhouse, who finished fourth, gained four spots in the points standings. He’s now in 18th place, 203 points behind the leader.

No. 5 David Ragan – David Ragan earned his best finish of the season at Bristol when he finished in 12th place.

Ragan failed to earn stage points, but was as high as seventh with an average position of 20th place.

This is Ragan’s best finish since finishing 10th at Talladega in the fall.

The momentum gained from this finish can help Ragan at Richmond before heading to Talladega, where the Front Row Motorsports driver has one win, four top-5s, and nine top-10 finishes.

Notables: Busch’s win at Bristol marked the first time in thirty-one years that a driver won at the half-mile track while leading the points standings. The feature was last accomplished by Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1987.

Darrell Wallace Jr. became the first African American driver since 1963 to lead a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event. Wallace led for six laps, before his No. 43 STP Chevrolet began to lose the handling that allowed the rookie contender to battle with two former champions. Wallace salvaged for a 16th place finish.

Daniel Suarez earned an 11th place finish despite suffering a broken finger last weekend at Texas. Suarez also led for five laps on Monday’s rain postponed event.

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In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Martinsville

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Photo by: Brian Lawdermilk

An overnight snowstorm in Virginia postponed the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway to Monday, March 26th – when a veteran’s winless drought that spanned almost six years came to an end.

A young gun with a top team earned his first top-10 of the season, while his teammate overcame obstacles to earn himself a top-10.

This week’s top-5 led laps, overcame being laps behind the leader, and improved their positions from one year ago at the half-mile track.

No. 1 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer was the underdog coming into the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, but at race end he was the top dog.

Bowyer led more laps at the Paper Clip than the last four years of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. He led 215 laps on Monday, compared to 145 laps from 2014 through 2017.

Bowyer gained the lead on Lap 285 and stayed out front for the remainder of day, with the exception of one lap on Lap 386.

The win is Bowyer’s first since the fall race at Charlotte in 2012, first with Stewart-Haas Racing and the No. 14 team. It is the ninth win of his MENCS career.

No. 2 Ryan Blaney – Ryan Blaney led 145 laps on Monday, second to race winner Bowyer, and secured points with a third place finish in Stage 1 and the Stage 2 victory.

Blaney significantly improved his position from one year ago, when he finished in the 25th position.

Blaney sits third in the points standings, 24 points behind new points leader Kyle Busch.

Can Blaney continue the momentum from Martinsville to earn his second career victory at Texas? The Team Penske driver finished 12th in the spring race last year after leading 148 laps.

No. 3 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott finished ninth at Martinsville Speedway, but it wasn’t an easy finish for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Elliott, who finished in the 27th position during the fall event after contact with Denny Hamlin, fought to stay on the lead lap through 500 miles, but was the beneficiary of the free pass on two occasions.

Elliott overcame the troubles to earn his third top-10 of 2018. The 22-year-old sits 18th in the points standings, 62 points from 10th and 142 behind Busch.

No. 4 Joey Logano – Joey Logano has been quietly flying under the radar this season. The Team Penske driver has earned five top-10s and two top-5s throughout six races.

Logano finished sixth on Monday. He earned stage points in both stages by finishing in the ninth position.

Logano sits fourth in the standings, 25 points behind Busch. He sits only one point behind teammate Blaney in third.

No. 5 Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman earned his first top-10 at Martinsville, earning a seventh place finish after rain and snow on Saturday was the cause of a Monday double-header.

Bowman has made improvements this season. The Hendrick Motorsports driver sits 14th in the standings, 112 points behind Busch. He is 32 points from Kurt Busch, who is in 10th place.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after ISM Raceway

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Photo by: Christian Petersen

The West Coast Swing continued in Avondale, Arizona at ISM Raceway on Sunday, March 11th for the TicketGuardian 500, where a familiar face earned his 40th career victory.

A rookie scored his best finish, while his teammate scored the first top-5 of the season for the organization.

Two organizations put all four of their teams inside the top-10, one for the first time in the organization’s history.

No. 1 Chase Elliott – Chase Elliott earned a third-place finish after running inside the top-10 majority of the day.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver scored the first top-5 in 2018 for the organization. The team has failed to find speed to compete with the Fords that have dominated and competed for the top positions so far this season.

Elliott, who finished second one year ago, earned stage points in Stage 1 (third) and Stage 2 (ninth). Elliott is tied with Alex Bowman in the points standings for 16th, 77 points behind points leader Kevin Harvick.

No. 2 Daniel Suarez – Daniel Suarez finished eighth at ISM Raceway, his best finish of 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver ran as high as fifth throughout 312 laps. He gained ten positions from his 18th place finish one year ago.

Suarez sits 22nd in the points standings, ahead of veterans Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, and Kasey Kahne.

No. 3 William Byron – William Byron earned his best finish to date after previous finishes of 23rd (Daytona), 18th (Atlanta), and 27th (Las Vegas).

Byron led his first laps in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series before finishing in 12th place. Byron led for 15 laps, Laps 195 through 209.

Byron sits 21st in the point standings, 100 points back.

Can the rookie better his finish on the third and final stint in the West Coast Swing? Byron has one top-5 finish at Fontana, a fifth place finish in the Xfinity Series in 2017.

No. 4 Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch earned his second top-10 of the season with a tenth place finish at ISM. Busch led six laps in addition to earning the Stage 2 victory on Sunday.

Busch, who has one career victory at the one-mile track, improved his finish by 11 places from 2017.

Busch gained two spots in the standings. He now sits 11th, six points behind Aric Almirola in tenth, and -51 from Harvick.

No. 5 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin rebounded from a 17th place finish one week ago to earn his third top-5 of the season.

Hamlin earned stage points in Stage 1 when he finished fourth, while his teammate Kyle Busch took home the stage victory.

Hamlin led 33 laps in the final stage of the event before bringing his FedEx Freight Toyota home to a fourth place finish.

Hamlin is the highest ranked driver in the points of this week’s Top 5. He sits sixth in the standings, 31 points behind.

Notables: The teams of Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing both had all four teams earn top-10 finishes. It is SHR’s first time in history at the feature.

Matt DiBenedetto finished in the 25th position after taking to social media earlier in the week for sponsorship. DiBenedetto had Zynga Poker sign on as a primary, while Hamlin, Harvick, and Darrell Waltrip were secondary sponsors.

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Las Vegas

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Photo by: Matt Sullivan

The start of NASCAR’s three race stint, known as the “West Coast Swing,” began with a quick start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Last week’s winner Kevin Harvick picked up where he left off, while another champion struggled before the green flag even dropped.

This week’s Top 5 dominated, rebounded, and maintained consistency for finishes of 12th or better.

No. 1 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford team did a complete 180 from one year ago, when a crash was the result of finishing 38th out of 39 cars.

Harvick continued his dominance in Las Vegas to earn his second win this season, leading a stellar 214 of 267 laps – the most by any driver at the 1.5-mile track.

Harvick took the lead from polesitter Ryan Blaney on Lap 2 of the Pennzoil 400, and soon began to lap the field. Harvick put half the field at least one lap down before the end of Stage 1.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned his 100th career victory through NASCAR’s three national series, crossing the finish line 2.906 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch and 13 seconds ahead of third place finisher Kyle Larson.

No. 2 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson started in the back on Sunday after failing pre-race inspection three times. The Hendrick Motorsports driver remained focused and determined, gaining nine spots in the first stage while fighting with handling issues.

After putting fresh tires on before the start of Stage 2, Johnson continued toward the front. The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet finished in the 20th position at the end of the second stage, two laps behind leader Harvick.

Johnson rebounded to earn a 12th place finish, his first top-15 of the season after crashes at Daytona and Atlanta resulted in finishes of 27th or worse.

Johnson sits 29th in the standings after three races. Will more improvements continue for Johnson? A top-10 at ISM Raceway would be just what he needs going forward, a top-5 could put Johnson on a steady pace back into familiar territory.

No. 3 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch finds himself among the most improved after a second-place finish, a gain of 20 positions from last season.

Busch’s day in Sin City was much quieter than in 2017, when he confronted Team Penske’s Joey Logano on pit road post-race.

Busch led twice for a total of ten laps. He sits fifth in the standings, along with Kyle Larson, 31 points behind Harvick, who is the new points leader.

No. 4 Paul Menard – Paul Menard earned his second top-10 of the season at Las Vegas, finishing in the ninth position.

Menard’s stats through three races have steadily improved from years past.

The last time the Wood Brothers Racing driver scored two top 10s within the first three races was in 2012, when he finished sixth in the Daytona 500, and seventh two week’s later in Vegas.

Menard sits ninth in the standings as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continues on the West Coast Swing to ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona on Sunday, March 11th.

No. 5 Erik Jones – Erik Jones has a lot that he could be happy about heading into this weekend. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is coming off his first top-10 of the season, after finishing 11th at Atlanta and in the 36th position at Daytona.

The 21-year-old has made consistent improvements since the season opener and is headed to the very same track where his No. 20 Toyota sat in Victory Lane last November with Matt Kenseth.

Can Jones earn his first MENCS victory and secure his way into the playoffs with an early victory? If the JGR driver builds on his performance, we could see the young star in victory lane sooner rather than later.

 

Kasey Kahne Excels at the Brickyard

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Photo by: Sean Gardner

A long day in Indianapolis, which included a red flag delay for rain and two others for incidents, ended with Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne in Victory Lane.

Kahne snapped over a hundred race winless streak for the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 in overtime after battling with Brad Keselowski for his 18th career MENCS victory.

“The career is big, for sure—but the win and the history here,” Kahne said. “To win at this track is unreal. We used to always be really close. We lost to Jeff (Gordon) and we lost to Tony (Stewart); just some fast cars back then.”

Kahne may not have had the fastest car, but he delivered through a series of crashes that left the driver of the Farmers Insurance Chevrolet with exhaustion and some cramps at the conclusion of the extended event.

“Today, strategy got us here. This Farmers Insurance Chevrolet was great once I got out front. I just had to get there. I’m exhausted. But, an unbelievable win. The team just kept working. We had great pit stops.”

Kahne received the lead after a multi-car crash involving Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, and Erik Jones brought out the tenth caution of the evening. Kahne, who pitted one lap earlier, had fresh tires and opted to stay out for track position.

Keselowski acquired the lead on the restart, but his run was cut short when the No. 6 of Trevor Bayne spun on the frontstrech and collected a half dozen cars along with him.

Keselowski elected for the top on the restart, but Kahne persevered through the dry oil to get ahead of the Team Penske driver.

“Well, the one before just didn’t work,” Kahne said, “Everything went wrong. On the final one, everything went right. And once I got to Turn 1, I had good power and was able to clear him off (Turn) 1. I’m exhausted. And, it’s pretty crazy.”

Two-time Brickyard 400 winner Kyle Busch finished 34th after securing Stage 1 and Stage 2 wins. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was involved in a Lap 111 wreck with Martin Truex Jr. that put their chance at history to an end.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was eliminated after contact with Bayne on Lap 77 left him with damage to his radiator.

“There was just a bunch of cars slowing down, starting a chain reaction. We got into the back of (Bayne),” he said. “It just knocked the radiator out of us. We had a great car. We had a top-10 car. I thought we could finish there.”

Only four playoff spots remain open with six races to go in the 2017 regular season. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head back to Pocono, where Chris Buescher is the defending race winner.

Chase Elliott signs contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports

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Photo by: Sarah Crabill

Hendrick Motorsports and Chase Elliott have announced that they have reached a contract extension agreement that puts the driver with the team through the 2022 racing season.

Elliott, who earned the 2016 Rookie of the Year honors, has 6 top-5 finishes and 11 top-10 finishes so far this season. He currently sits third in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular point season standings.

“It means the world to me to be a part of this organization, and I couldn’t be happier,” Elliott said in a statement, “I wouldn’t want to drive for anybody else but Hendrick Motorsports. I am very proud to be where I am, and I definitely take it upon myself to work hard and make sure I do my part for the company as we move forward.”

Elliott signed with Hendrick Motorsports in 2011 and took over the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet from Jeff Gordon at the start of 2016. The 21-year old was previously signed through 2018.

“As both a driver and a person, where Chase is today at 21 years old is unbelievable,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “With all the expectations and pressure, he’s stayed focused on being himself and working as hard as he can.”

“The pure driving talent has always been obvious, and he’s doing so many great things off the track. He’ll be a big part of our organization and our sport for many years. I’m looking forward to watching him continue to grow with us.”

The 2014 Xfinity Series champion is still searching for his first Cup Series victory ahead of this weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway. He finished 14th at the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt’s career more than what meets the eye

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Announces His Retirement After the 2017 NASCAR Season

Photo by: Mike Comer

Hendrick Motorsports announced early Tuesday morning that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire after the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, ending a career that spans 18 years.

Earnhardt has been embraced by millions who first began following the career of his late father, known as The Intimidator, but along the way he carved a name for himself and a way to be remembered for who he was.

Dale Jr. didn’t ask for the Earnhardt name, but the Earnhardt name is what he was given. The differences between him and his father could possibly be described as a complete 360 degree difference, but that didn’t stop the 14-time Most Popular Driver from being the driver that he wanted to be.

Earnhardt has earned 26 victories, including two Daytona 500 wins, in 603 starts. He also has two championships in NASCAR’s second tier series now known as the XFINITY Series.

Earnhardt’s career began in the No. 8 driving for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, or DEI, where he won 17 times. In 2007, Earnhardt announced he would be joining Hendrick Motorsports at the beginning of the 2008 season. Earnhardt began his tenure by winning the 2008 Budweiser Shootout, which is now The Clash.

With a career of about two decades, Earnhardt’s highlight reel is a significant one. He will be remembered for his dominance of NASCAR’s two restrictor plate circuits, Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, where he has a combined total of 10 wins.

The 2001 Pepsi 400 and 2014 Daytona 500 are two of Earnhardt’s most memorable wins. The 2001 win at Daytona was the first win for the driver since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s passing. The driver was pushed to victory by teammate Michael Waltrip. Earnhardt’s second win of The Great American Race also brought the addition of Earnhardt to the social media world. He joined Twitter the day after the victory, sharing pictures of him in victory lane with the Harley J. Earl trophy and in front of the statue of his father at the Daytona Experience.

Earnhardt’s career in racing will be remembered for years to come. Diehard fans who coined the name “Junior Nation”, should remember him for being as loyal to them and the sport as they were to him. Those that have gotten the chance to see the transformation of Earnhardt into not only his own driver, but also his own man, should consider themselves lucky.

The rest of the 2017 season should be a time to rejoice and come Homestead know that even though it’s the end of an era, the era was well spent.