LAS VEGAS – After winning two of the first three races in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule, Hendrick Motorsports goes into the last race of the ‘west coast swing’ leading the championship standings. The combination of mid-week preparation to overtime luck has given the organization an early advantage.
“I think Hendrick Motorsports, the depth of people and how good each and every person is there, pays off,” Bowman shared after earning his redemption win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “Obviously, it’s paying off with how good everybody is at HMS. I think we’re in a pretty good spot.”
The luck came with a caution in the closing laps. What looked to be a race between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. turned into a pit strategy shuffle heading into overtime. Three Hendrick cars beat Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain off pit road, and despite having fresher tires, they could only pick off one of them at the checkered flag.
“I was really surprised,” said a flabbergasted Bowman at the strength of the two-tire call on their last pit stop. “I was worried we were going to be super tight. On the front row, you got to drive it like it’s going to stick. Thankfully it stuck.”
Now holding seven career Cup wins with his victory in the Pennzoil 400, Bowman was the biggest gainer in the championship points, climbing 17 positions to rest in the eighth spot. With three drivers in the top 10 in points, Hendrick Motorsports is now unaccompanied as the team with the most drivers in those positions early in the season. While there still remains unsolved equations, the four teams have proved leaning on each other to bring each other up to success.
“Especially with how we started, Daytona (International Speedway) and Fontana (Auto Club Speedway) didn’t go well for us,” continued Bowman. “There’s a lot going on, so many unknowns. The strength of the Hendrick cars this early has been great, so I’m excited to have the rest of the year to keep dialing these things in and be ready for the Playoffs.”
Playoff-bound is the focus. All four competitors made the Playoffs in 2021, and early signs are pointing to that as a strong possibility. With Bowman getting a win from a dismal start to the season, William Byron is now looking for the same change of pace to start climbing from 21st in the point standings. A top five for the No. 24 car was the direction that they needed.
“We needed a good run,” Byron stated after the race. “We’ve had a rough couple weeks. We’ve had speed everywhere, but just not the finishes. We’ve got to clean up some of those things on pit road and get a little better and I think we will have a shot to win.”
Last week at Auto Club Speedway, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott had controversial contact. The collision essentially ended Elliott’s bid for the win, but Larson went on to park his No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro in Victory Lane. Reports came out that Rick Hendrick sat the drivers down before making the trip over to Las Vegas. None of the Hendrick camp put anyone in the wall this week, especially during a tight battle between Bowman and Larson. Internally, as is true with just about every race team at this level, the rule of thumb is to race hard but not wreck your teammates.
“They raced really, really hard, I know that,” said Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon. “When I came to Hendrick Motorsports, it was, ‘race hard but don’t wreck your teammates.’ That’s what you do. You want to go race your teammates for wins and settle it among yourselves. 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.
“The conversation that Rick had with us was really more pertaining to what happened at the end of that race last week, those similar types of scenarios, blocking, also working through when things like that happen how you work through it internally.”
But this week brought more than just an opportunity to run up front with a new generational car. Team owner Rick Hendrick announced a support effort for Samaritan’s Purse for Ukraine, where each lap led would result in a $2,000 donation. Across all four cars, the team led a combined 51 laps increasing the donation by an additional $102,000.
“We’re extremely proud to be able to support Samaritan’s Purse seeing what’s happening in Ukraine,” Gordon celebrated. “Everybody in the world is watching what’s happening there and wants to support that. So I think that was a great opportunity for us to be able to be a part of that. Rick (Hendrick) this week reached out to all the teams, PR, marketing departments, and said, ‘I’d like to get this going for this week.’ But the cars had already left the shops. Obviously some more work had to be done to get those decals, especially the one on the TV panel of the 5.
“We raised a lot of money for a great cause today. We’ll continue to look at opportunities like that and how we can do more of that in the future.”
After a win last weekend and a second in Vegas, Larson leads the organization and the field in the Cup point standings after three races.
Larson stated, “Obviously you want to get better, but I feel we’re in a good spot and right there in the mix.”