Hendrick Drivers Falter in the Playoffs, Again

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - OCTOBER 04: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Cincinnati Chevrolet, is involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 04, 2021 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

After coming into NASCAR’s Playoffs as the favorites, winning a combined 11 of the 27 races in the regular season, the four drivers of Hendrick Motorsports have been mostly silent since the Playoffs began.

At one point there was speculation that the Final 4 drivers to compete for this year’s title could all be from the same team and that team would be the four drivers of Hendrick Motorsports: Alex Bowman. William Byron, regular season champion Kyle Larson and defending Cup champion Chase Elliott.

But now with the Playoffs halfway over, the speculation has silenced. Only Kyle Larson has won in the Playoffs, and even that can’t guarantee he will be in the Final 4 at Phoenix.

At least two of those four drivers are facing elimination.

They didn’t help their cause Monday during the rescheduled and rain shortened race at Talladega.

The trouble started on lap 57 just three laps before the end of Stage 1 when Justin Allgaier was sent into the outside frontstretch wall after he was pushed by Byron. Larson was squeezed up into the outside wall and limped to the pits with heavy damage. Larson’s crew tried to affect repairs but only a few laps later Larson’s Chevy lost a tire, and the car was sent into the Turn 1 wall. He would finish 37th, four laps down.

“I didn’t even see what happened and had no time to react or anything like that,” Larson said. “It’s just part of this racing when you are not situated in good track position and just got collected there. So, yeah, a bit of a bummer, but could have been worse today.”

Then on lap 99 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bumped Bowman just after Bowman had taken the lead. Bowman was sent hard into the outside wall, and out of the race.

“Yeah, just dumped over on the left rear and turned us around really bad,” Bowman said. “Bummer for the Ally 48 team. We had a fast car; we were leading there. That’s just superspeedway racing and the box that we’re put in by these racetracks. You’ll have that.”

Then as the rain was picking up late in the race and eventual winner Bubba Wallace was leading Ryan Preece was spun by Chris Buescher entering Turn 3; the ensuing crash swept up Byron and Matt DiBenedetto.

The only Hendrick driver to avoid crashing was Elliott. He led the way for the Hendrick team, finishing 18th.

“I just got into the wrong lane there in the closing laps,” Elliott said. “Once that got sorted back out, I didn’t have a ton of options and we just ran out of time with the rain. Not the finish we needed.”

It wasn’t a finish any of the once favored Hendrick drivers needed. Heading to the final race of the Round of 12 Byron and Bowman are below the cutoff. Both drivers will most likely need a win Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte to advance to the Round of 8.

“Try to do the best we can.,” Byron said. “We tried to win last week, and it didn’t work out. We tried to win today, and it didn’t work out. We’ll approach it like we do every week.”

Larson and Elliott will also need good runs.

“It could have been worse; could have been worse,” Larson said. I haven’t seen the point total yet, but it seems like a lot of us are around the same spot. I think at times it looked worse; so, like I said, it could have been worse.”

Greg Engle