The Hendrick Motorsports stable was brought down to earth Sunday. For the last two weeks the four Chevrolets belonging to Hendrik could seemingly do no wrong.
That view might have been soured a bit in Phoenix Sunday.
The day started badly for Larson when he was forced to start at the back of the field for unapproved adjustments. As he has done many times, including at Phoenix last November when he won the Cup series title, Larson was able to charge through the field and was inside the top 10 by lap 36.
Meanwhile Chase Elliott who started 19th, took the lead on lap 122 for the first of a total of 50 laps he would lead on the day. He and Larson would be in contention with Elliott finishing Stage 1 in third, Larson seventh. William Byron would lead 12 laps on the day and win Stage 1 while Bowman finished fifth.
For a time, it looked like another Hendrick victory was in sight, or at least good finishes. Elliott would finish Stage 2 in second, Byron fourth and Larson fifth.
It all seemed to come apart for the team in the closing laps, however.
On lap 235, Larson’s Chevy slowed, and he was forced to pit. The hood and not long after the car was sent to the garage with engine failure, and he was scored with a DNF in 34th.
“I don’t know. I felt it four or five laps before it, well it was just getting worse,” Larson said. “Hate that. Our Valvoline Chevy was pretty good, I thought that we were a fourth or fifth place car. Just was just hoping to be a little better than that. I know they’ll address the issue that seems like we have had the last couple of weeks with some of the engines. We’ll come back strong and reliable.”
Then like he did last week in Las Vegas, Elliott spun with 9 laps to go. That erased any hope of a win and Elliott had to settle for 11th. Byron scrapped the wall late in the going and never had the speed to rally, he finished 18th. Last week’s race winner, Bowman meanwhile never contended for the win and finished a quiet 14th.
At the end of the day Sunday’s race marked the first race this season that didn’t have a Hendrick Motorsports car in the top 10. There are plenty of races left and the season is just getting started.
“The good thing,” Larson pointed out. “Is we have fast cars, fast engines and great drivers driving these Chevys, so we’ll get some more wins here.”
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