NASCAR: Kyle Busch good to the last drop at Pocono finale

Kyle Busch had just enough fuel to win the second half of the NASCAR Cup Series’ weekend doubleheader at Pocono Raceway.

It wasn’t pretty, but Kyle Busch ended Hendrick Motorsports’ monopoly on the NASCAR Cup Series in style on Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway.

Busch fought an ill-handling No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and saved just enough fuel in the final stages to win the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350, the latter of a Cup Series weekend doubleheader in Pennsylvania. The win snaps a six-race winning streak for Rick Hendrick’s team, though Kyle Larson, the winner of three of those races, finished in the runner-up spot.

“Even though we were in the back and behind and having to come through and persevere through being stuck in fourth gear, no clutch, all that stuff it’s all burned out…It was awesome today,” Busch told NBC Sports after exiting his car. “Great job to my team. Thanks to (crew chief) Ben Beshore. Thanks to Matt (Tyrrell) the fuel guy for getting it full. That’s a big important one today. Really great to take home another checkered flag.

Shortly after the halfway mark of the 140-lap event at the “Tricky Triangle”, Busch’s No. 18 got stuck in fourth gear due to transmission issues. Things became so dire for the JGR team that a crew member had to enter the car during the caution at the end of the second stage in an ultimately futile attempt to fix it. Busch retreated to the rear of the field while at the onset of the third and final stage, the first two won by Martin Truex Jr. and HMS rep William Byron.

The race turned into a fuel mileage struggle after the caution came for Erik Jones’ encounter with the wall at lap 93. Busch joined several others on pit road, seeking to stretch out one final tank of fuel over 47 final laps. The fuel window at the 2.5-mile triangle is often open for 42-45 laps.

Contenders dwindled as they slowly ran out of fuel over the final laps. Byron threatened to keep the HMS streak alive but was forced to pit road with two laps to go. The stage was set for a battle between JGR Toyotas, but Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin ran dry on the final turn of the penultimate lap. Busch had just enough to finish the 140th circuit and capture the 59th Cup Series victory of his career. That gives him sole possession of ninth place on the all-time Cup Series wins list, breaking a tie with fellow Sunday racer Kevin Harvick.

Brad Keselowski led the most laps on Sunday with 31. He beat out Harvick for third, while Bubba Wallace rounded out the top five. Wallace’s finish is good for the first top-five/ten finish the history of 23XI Racing, the team co-owned by Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on Independence Day, as the circuit makes its first run on the Road America road course in Elkhart Lake, WI since 1956 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

For full results, click here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Alex Bowman wins after Kyle Larson misfortune at Pocono

A Hendrick Motorsports civil war ended in heartbreak for Kyle Larson, whose teammate Alex Bowman sped off to victory.

Kyle Larson seemed well on his way to his fourth consecutive victory on Saturday afternoon at Pocono Raceway. The racing gods had other plans for him, but Hendrick Motorsports was nonetheless there to pick up the pieces.

Larson passed teammate Alex Bowman with four laps to in the Pocono Organics CBD 325, but lost a right-front tire on the white flag lap allowed Bowman to reassume the lead and earn HMS’ sixth consecutive team victory. The victory ends Larson’s personal winning streak at three races, but the No. 5 Chevrolet still managed to cross the finish line in ninth place. Bowman earned his third victory of the season in the No. 48 Chevrolet and beat out Kyle Busch, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Blaney, who rounded out the top five.

Saturday’s race was the first of the second annual Cup Series doubleheader at Pocono Raceway, with the latter race being run tomorrow afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

“The morale is obviously super high at Hendrick Motorsports. It’s really cool to see it that way. I think there’s not one thing,” Bowman said after his win “It’s each and every individual at Hendrick Motorsports from top to bottom in every department, it’s everybody at Chevrolet. Our engines are strong, bodies are great, chassis are great. The guys putting them together are doing a great job.”

Bowman lingered in the upper half of the field in the early stages of the 130-lap race while Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, broke the HMS monopoly on stage victories. Kyle earned the first stage victory (25 laps) while Kurt took the latter after lap 77. Larson, Saturday’s pole sitter, reassumed the leap on lap 84 from Kurt. During the third stage’s round of green flag pit stops, Bowman inserted himself into contention with a two-tire stop on lap 93, which put him in the top five. A caution for debris on lap 108 bunched the field together, giving Bowman his chance.

Situated in the front row after the choose lap, Bowman warded off Larson and Kyle Busch to take the lead before engaging in a civil war with his teammate. Larson made what was believed to be the winning pass with four laps to go, but lost his right front tire headed into the “Tricky Triangle’s” third and final turn, allowing Bowman to coast to his third win of the season and the fifth of his career. Bowman, who succeeded seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevrolet this season, will go for the sweep tomorrow in the same vehicle.

“This is the strangest win I’ve ever been a part of,” Bowman said of his unusual victory. “I thought I was running second, which was still going to be a good day for us with how we struggled throughout the course of the day. Then he blows a tire, we win; can’t do a burnout because I have to race the car tomorrow. I typically stand on the roof of the car; can’t do that because I got to race the car tomorrow. I typically drink all the beers; can’t do all that because I got to race a car tomorrow.”

Larson’s bad luck cost him the honor of being NASCAR’s first winner of four consecutive points events since Johnson in 2007. He did secure his seventh straight top-ten finish but will start from the rear of the field tomorrow because the late wreck will force him to a backup car.

“It’s little bit laughable just because I can’t believe it,” Larson told NBC Sports in his interview after making the mandatory stop at the infield care center. “I hate that we didn’t get another win. It would have been cool to win five in a row. It just wasn’t meant to be I guess today. I felt something like right in the middle of the tunnel. I wasn’t quite sure what it was yet. (The tire) finally kind of shredded halfway through the short chute there.”

“I hate that we didn’t get the win, but cool that Alex still did, a Hendrick car with another win. Cool to keep (team owner Rick Hendrick’s) streak going.”

Race Notes

  • The top 20 of Saturday’s final ledger will be inverted to form the starting lineup for Sunday. Thus, 20th-place finisher Chris Buescher will start first next to Michael McDowell (19th). Buescher is currently four points out of the last playoff spot behind Kurt Busch.

 

  • The latest HMS victory comes days after the team announced that Jeff Gordon would become the vice chairman of the team. Gordon, a four-time Cup Series champion, spent nearly his entire career in the No. 24 Chevrolet now piloted by Byron.

 

  • Cole Custer and Ryan Newman each failed to finish due to their involvement in on-track incidents.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Kyle Larson continues dominance as NASCAR debuts at Nashville

Kyle Larson continued his dominant ways on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, which ran at Nashville Superspeedway for the first time.

A new track produced the same result for the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday afternoon.

Kyle Larson once again dominated proceedings on the premier racing circuit, leading 264 of 300 laps in the inaugural Cup race at Nashville Superspeedway to win the Ally 400. Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has now won each of the last four Cup Series events, including last weekend’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas. HMS vehicles have won five consecutive official points events overall, helping the team strengthen its grip on the record for most team victories in Cup Series history (now at 271 after Sunday).

“It was another good one. We’ve had probably the best race car on the racetrack for at least a month and a half, so good to take advantage of it, get another win,” Larson said after the win. (We were) able to jump out to a lead right from the get-go, basically lead the rest of the race. If it wasn’t for the cautions at the ends of the stages, we had a near-perfect day.”

Larson took the lead on lap 6, shortly after the race restarted following Quin Houff’s wreck on the opening lap due to a lost tire. The No. 5 went three-wide with Kyle Busch and pole-sitter Aric Almirola to nab the top spot, setting the tone for familiar domination. HMS teammate Chase Elliott was able to take the first 90-lap stage after staying out during a caution induced by Chris Buescher and Justin Haley’s wreck on the 77th circuit. It was all Larson after that, as he coasted to his 10th career Cup Series victory and series-best fourth of the 2021 season.

“It’s awesome to get multiple wins in a row now in the Cup Series…just cool to do that,” he said. “I didn’t think that was possible ever for me in the Cup Series anyways. I’ve gone on streaks in dirt racing and stuff before, but never been close to doing anything like that in Cup. It’s been awesome. To get to now double-digit point-paying wins is great. I’d like to keep winning and keep inching my name up the winner’s list not only at NASCAR but at Hendrick Motorsports, too. I think that’s important to me.”

Larson has now led a career-best 1,426 laps this season (tops in the series and 670 ahead of points-leader Denny Hamlin) and is the first driver to win three straight points races since Brad Keselowski in 2018. The No. 5 is also only 10 points behind Hamlin for the Cup Series points lead, which affords a 15-point bonus for when the NASCAR playoffs begin in September.

Ross Chastain had a career-best finish in the runner-up slot, followed by HMS representative William Byron and Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick.

This weekend marked NASCAR’s return to the Music City area at the newly renovated 1.333-mile track in Lebanon. The track previously held events in the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series (as well as the IndyCar Series) from 2001 through 2011, but the Cup Series had not been to Nashville since 1984 at Fairgrounds Speedway. Larson praised the fans’ enthusiasm and relished this win a little more due to its significance on the NASCAR calendar.

“I stayed in the city this week. I got to see how pumped up all the race fans were for the race this weekend,” he said. “There (were) a lot of fans that recognized me throughout the last couple days walking around, wishing me good luck, saying how excited they were to go to the race. That’s what kind of made me feel extra special about this race, is just seeing how excited the fans were to go to a new venue, sort of getting to watch some Cup racing in Nashville.”

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next weekend at Pocono Raceway, which will host a doubleheader on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • With the series descending upon Nashville for the first time, qualifying was held hours before Sunday’s event. Almirola earned it in No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and used the momentum to nab his first top five of the season.

 

  • Elliott went on to finish 13th but he was disqualified in postrace inspection due to five loose lug nuts that relegated him to last place (39th). His stage win was transferred over to runner-up Kurt Busch, who finished eighth. A fine and crew chief suspension will likely be announced later this week.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Kyle Larson keeps rolling, wins All-Star Race at Texas

An unconventional format and a hard push from Brad Keselowski weren’t enough to stop Kyle Larson’s NASCAR Cup Series takeover.

The NASCAR Cup Series’ All-Star break was no sanctuary for the continued domination of Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports.

HMS’ No. 5 Chevrolet continued its take over of the premier racing circuit, taking home the million-dollar prize at the annual NASCAR All-Star Race, which was held at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time. Rather than points, Larson’s team takes home the seven-digit money prize traditionally bestowed to the winner. He would hold off a hard-charging Brad Keselowski over a ten-lap shootout to secure the victory, with HMS teammate Chase Elliott rounding out the top three. Larson is now one of eight drivers to win multiple All-Star Races, winning the last one he participated in (2019) as well. Each of the other seven drivers who have done so is a Cup champion, with another HMS legend, Jimmie Johnson, pacing the way with four.

“I think I felt him try to maybe take the air off my rear end to (turn) one once I got a little bit light getting into (the turn),” Larson said of his battle with Keselowski. “I could tell he was going to have to get desperate to do something and get a run on me, but thankfully our car was fast enough, he just couldn’t get those extra few feet.”

“Chase Elliott to me, is the most aggressive and best restarter, or one of the best restarters, especially from the front row, so that was, that was really cool (to beat him,” Larson added of the opening to the final decalogue before cheekily adding “To win a lot of money is awesome too.”

Larson has headlined a resurgence for the legendary HMS team, which has won each of the last four points races en route to passing Richard Petty’s Petty Enterprises for the most all-time. The No. 5 has triumphed in the last two and now takes home HMS’ record 10th victory in the All-Star exhibition. Elliott, the defending series champion, took home last year’s event at Bristol.

Sunday marked the All-Star Race’s first visit to Texas. The event was held annually at Charlotte Motor Speedway since 1987 but moved to Bristol Motor Speedway last season. NASCAR has not confirmed whether the All-Star event will continue to tour in 2022 and beyond. With his victory, Larson becomes the first driver to win the All-Star Race at two different tracks.

A unique format was used for the maiden voyage in Fort Worth, as the 100-lap event was broken down into six stages. Each of the first four segments lasted 15 laps apiece and the latter three featured inversions that shifted the field and created more opportunities for passing. The penultimate stage lasted 30 laps, with each participant required to make a green-flag pit stop prior to the 20th circuit. Elliott’s No. 9 crew earned the fastest stop, netting a $100,000 bonus. Starting position for the fifth round was determined via an accumulation of results over the first four segments.

“I actually kind of enjoyed it,” Larson said of the format. “I don’t know if this is a format that will work at every track, but I feel like for Texas it worked. I think the mandatory green-flag stop at the end was kind of cool.”

As the final stage loomed, it appeared that the exhibition would once again come down to an HMS civil war between Larson and Elliott. But Keselowski, the last driver to make his mandatory stop, held on to the lead when a caution flag (accounting for the spinning car of Ross Chastain) flew shortly after his service, his No. 2 Team Penske Ford serving as an invader to the monopoly. Though Elliott faded late, Larson held to secure the victory.

The NASCAR Cup Series resumes its season on Sunday afternoon, as the circuit will debut at Nashville Superspeedway for the Ally 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • Chastain, who finished 18th, advanced to the main All-Star event by winning the first of three stages at the All-Star Open held shortly beforehand. He was joined by Tyler Reddick (16th) and Aric Almirola (8th), as well as Matt DiBenedetto (17th), who won the fate vote to earn the last invitation.

 

  • Keselowski’s teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.

For full results, click here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Kyle Larson continues to dominate, wins return to Sonoma

Kyle Larson helped Hendrick Motorsports expand the all-time wins record with his second consecutive victory in NASCAR’s return to Sonoma.

Last weekend at Charlotte, Kyle Larson helped Hendrick Motorsports set the record for most victories for a single team in NASCAR Cup Series history. On Sunday, Larson helped HMS get to work in making sure that they’ll never be caught.

The Cup Series returned to Sonoma Raceway this weekend after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Larson’s No. 5 HMS Chevrolet once again dominated the proceedings, leading 55 of 90 laps at the Toyota/SaveMart 350. Rick Hendrick’s vehicles have now won four consecutive races while Larson joined Martin Truex Jr. as the only three-time winner this season.

Larson sat on the pole for the return to Sonoma, a familiar spot for him at the Wine Country-based road course. He had started first in each of the last three visits to Northern California but led only 11 laps in six previous visits, his best finish being 10th in 2019.

On Sunday, however, the No. 5 was clicking on all cylinders, as the victory was earned through a complete team effort. A rare threat to Larson’s supremacy came with 18 laps to go, when the No. 00 Chevrolet of Quin Houff lost its engine and stalled on the racetrack. When a majority of the lead lap cars visited pit road for tires and fuel, Larson’s crew got him out quickly, setting him up in fifth-place and top car on fresh tires.

“All these wins are team wins,” Larson said of his No. 5 squad. “My relationship with (crew chief Cliff Daniels) and everybody on the No. 5 car is great…This series is so tough that you can easily get knocked back down and be struggling. We just have to continue to work hard. The pit crew has been doing a great job. Cliff and everybody out at the shop on all the cars have been doing great.”

It took Larson only two laps to retake the lead, passing Joey Logano right before another yellow flag for a multi-car get-together. Larson then overcame several other on-track incidents to hold the lead on multiple restarts before holding off teammate and defending series champion Chase Elliott for the win in an overtime finish.

HMS driver William Byron saw his day end in one of those wrecks (his first DNF since Martinsville last November) but Larson continued to carry the torch. With Larson winning and teammate Chase Elliott finishing second, HMS vehicles have also finished in the top two spots in four consecutive races. Such a streak had not been achieved in NASCAR since 1956, when Carl Kiekhaefer’s vehicles pulled it off.

Between Larson, Elliott, Byron, and Alex Bowman, Hendrick Chevrolets have united to win seven of the 16 points races on the Cup Series docket.

I feel like you have to race each other a little bit differently. You don’t want to run into each other and damage their car or damage yours take out two opportunities for our organization to get a win,” Larson said of racing his teammates for big positions. “It’s been cool to get to race really hard with Chase. William and Alex have been doing a great job this year. To have us all getting wins and battling upfront, all throughout the race, it’s awesome.”

“We all want to see each other do good, so we work really well together. I think we all learn something off of each other each week.”

Martin Truex Jr., the winner of the last two Sonoma visits, finished third, while Logano and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.

Following the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway next weekend, the Cup Series returns to action on Sunday, June 20 for its maiden voyage at Nashville Superspeedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • After only one incident-induced caution (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s wreck a lap 32) over the first 70 laps (not counting two stage endings and a competition flag at lap 10), the final 20 featured several wrecks that induced damage to several renowned names.

 

  • With Byron failing to finish the race (his wreck also involving Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, and Christopher Bell among others), only Denny Hamlin (8th), Austin Dillon (13th), and Chase Briscoe (17th) have been running at the finish in all 16 races this season.

 

  • After Sunday’s race, Larson moved into second place in the points standings and now sits 47 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. Larson trailed Hamlin, who has yet to win this season, by 135 points after the Richmond race seven weeks prior. The Cup Series’ regular season champion earns 15 bonus points to start the opening playoff round at Darlington in September. Ten events linger before the postseason cutoff.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: Kyle Larson domination secures Hendrick Motorsports record

Through Larson’s dominant win at the Coca-Cola 600, Hendrick Motorsports became the winningest team in NASCAR Cup Series history.

Hendrick Motorsports made history in a familiar way: together in dominant fashion.

Rick Hendrick’s race team became the winningest team in NASCAR Cup Series history on Sunday night, as Kyle Larson dominated the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to earn the group’s 269th victory, passing Richard Petty’s Petty Enterprises. Larson led 327 of 400 laps in the longest event on the NASCAR circuit (600 miles).

HMS Chevrolets have now won three consecutive events to tie and break Petty’s record. Larson took home his second win of the year, with his teammates Chase Elliott, William Byron, and Alex Bowman finishing second, fourth, and fifth respectively. Only third-place Kyle Busch broke up on the HMS monopoly in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

“It’s perfect. Everything down to the way they mow the lawn. It looks amazing. They put a level of pride and effort into everything…(Hendrick) has built such an amazing empire. Everyone there loves to work there,” Larson said of working with HMS. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. Getting to see the level of respect everyone has for him, how they love to work for him, it shows how great of a person he is…there’s a lot to be learned off of him.”

Hendrick, 71, made his fortune as the owner of several Chevrolet dealerships. He entered NASCAR ownership in 1984 and his team has gone on to win 13 Cup Series titles and over 300 races in the three national touring series. Elliott earned the most recent championship last season in the No. 9 Chevrolet.

Sunday’s win was almost thematic in its timing. Not only is Charlotte a five-minute drive from HMS headquarters in Concord, but the No. 5 Chevrolet currently driven by Larson also raced to Hendrick’s first victory back in 1984 with Geoffrey Bodine behind the wheel at Martinsville.

Hendrick had a little bit of pride in capturing the win at Charlotte but would’ve been happy with any of his quartet reaching victory lane.

“I really wanted to do it in Charlotte,” Hendrick said. “(But) I didn’t care who broke the record, I just wanted to win it. Any one of them, I pull for them all the same. It’s tough when they’re battling each other for the lead, but the objective in this race was winning…It’s like having a bunch of kids. You love them all the same, each one of them has different strengths and characteristics. But at the end of the day, they work well together.”

The Charlotte dominance was Larson’s second win in the No. 5, which also played host to Terry Labonte’s Cup Series title in 1996. Finishing off dominating performances has been a struggle for Larson. He previously led at least 200 laps in six prior events but came out winless each time. Additionally, he is by far the 2021 leader in laps at the front with 1,105. It wasn’t hard for Larson to get the lead early on. This weekend’s events held qualifying at the 1.5-mile oval and Larson’s time put him on the pole next to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the front row.

He closed the deal on Sunday, holding a final margin of over 10 seconds on Elliott. The No. 5 led the way for HMS, whose four vehicles led all but 17 laps on Sunday. It wasn’t hard for Larson to get the lead early on. This weekend’s events held qualifying at the 1.5-mile oval and Larson’s time put him on the pole next to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the front row. Elliott and Byron were third and fourth right behind them at the start.

HMS Chevrolets have now won each of the last three races, with Bowman previously winning at Dover and Elliott winning last week at the Circuit of the Americas. Byron, piloting Jeff Gordon’s No. 24, has finished in the top ten in all but one of the past 13 races and set a new career-best with his sixth top-five finish of the year on Sunday.

“It’s a great problem to have,” Larson said of racing his teammates for victories. “We’ve done a great job of racing each other hard, but yet not putting each other in a bad spot either so. We all want to see each other succeed for Rick and we all work great together during the week and even on the weekends…we’re racing with respect.”

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday at Sonoma Raceway’s road course for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 (4 p.m. ET, FS1).

 (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Race Notes

  • Hendrick vehicles last won three consecutive races in 2015, when Gordon, Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. respectively won at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix.

 

  • Only two cautions emerged for on-track incidents. Kurt Busch’s No. 1 Chevrolet had a belt issue that eventually leaked oil on the track at lap 174 while Ryan Newman lost a tired and hit the wall at lap 297. All other cautions signaled the end of three 100-lap stages (all won by Larson).

 

  • Busch’s bad day was part of a brutal outing for Chip Ganassi Racing, as Ross Chastain likewise had a problem in his No. 42. The day was not a total loss for CGR, as Alex Palou placed second in the Indianapolis 500.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Chase Elliott wins chaotic, shortened maiden voyage at COTA

Chase Elliott braved the elements and some early chaos to reclaim his crown as NASCAR’s road course king en route to his first win of 2021.

Chase Elliott’s rain-shortened victory at the Echo Park Texas Grand Prix was historic in several ways. Not only did the defending Cup Series champion win NASCAR’s first visit to the Circuit of the Americas road course in Austin, TX, but he also captured the 268th Cup Series win for Hendrick Motorsports.

HMS is now tied for the most team victories in Cup Series history, tying Richard Petty’s Petty Enterprises. It’s also the 800th victory for manufacturer Chevrolet. Elliott’s teammate Kyle Larson finished second, while Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Obviously that’s just a huge win on multiple fronts,” Elliott said after the race. “Win number 800 for Chevrolet. They’re a great partner to me personally. They’ve played a massive role in the success of Hendrick Motorsports past and present. They’re a great group to work with so I’m super proud of them.

“To tie (Petty Enterprises) obviously is (also) a big one. The boss has been on us heavy about that record. He wants that record. So super glad that we could help with that today.”

With Elliott’s win, each of team owner Rick Hendrick’s drivers has won a race in 2021. He joins Larson, William Byron, and Alex Bowman, the latter-most of whom won last weekend’s race at Dover. HMS vehicles swept the first four spots.

Hendrick has enjoyed his share of success in the Cup Series, as his 268 career victories have been accompanied by 13 championships, the most recent earned by Elliott last season. Jimmie Johnson won seven in the No. 48 now occupied by Bowman, while Jeff Gordon won four in the No. 24 piloted by Byron. Laron’s No. 5 hosted Terry Labonte’s championship in 1996.

But Hendrick has a strong appreciation for the current run, as there’s a possibility that his quartet could all be racing for a championship come November’s season finale in Phoenix.

“We usually had one or two (contenders). Jeff’s dominating, Jimmie’s dominating. Now the sport is so competitive,” he said. “But to have four that can show up and win any weekend, that’s a testament to the effort that all those people back in the shop are putting into this program.”

The win also allowed Elliott to reclaim his monopoly on road courses. He had previously won four in a row at such tracks, seeing that streak end in February at Daytona. Elliott has now won six road course races, tied for third-most all-time with Petty, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, and Bobby Allison. Only Gordon (9) and Tony Stewart (8) have won more. COTA is the second of a record seven road courses on the 2021 schedule, the next being scheduled for Sonoma Raceway on June 6.

It’s safe to say that this one at COTA, which often plays host to Formula 1 and Sports Car races, will definitely be among the most unique. Special rain tires were used as downpours struck the Austin area. Unfortunately, the tires did little to combat visibility issues that plagued the early portions of the race and eventually led to its cancelation with 14 to go in the 68-lap event. 

NASCAR has run full races on road courses in the rain before, including an Xfinity Series race at the Charlotte roval last fall. But several drivers were displeased after several violent wrecks plagued the first two stages. In a dangerous wreck that brought out a red flag on lap 25, Martin Truex Jr. slammed into the back of Michael McDowell’s Ford before his own No. 19 Toyota was plowed into by Cole Custer on the fast backstretch.

Six laps earlier, the days of Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, and Bubba Wallace all ended due to visibility issues. Harvick, who failed to finish a race for the first time since September 2019, minced no words about the situation. 

“It’s the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot.  You can’t see anything down the straightaways.  These cars were not built to run in the rain,” the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and 2014 Cup Series champion said. “We don’t have any business being out in the rain, period.  All I can say is this is the worst decision that we’ve ever made in our sport that I’ve been a part of, and I’ve never felt more unsafe in my whole racing career, period.”

Sunday’s race became considerably tamer as the rain let up. NASCAR also mandated single-file restarts for the rest of the event. Elliott took over the lead at lap 50, when several leaders (including Bowman, Chastain, and Kyle Busch) went to pit road. The No. 9 team projected that they would be unable to finish the race without making another stop of their own and advised Elliott to simply build a lead that would procure a strong finish.

The return of heavy rains led to visibility issues resurfacing and standing water in the backstretch, allowing Elliott to secure the 12th win of his career.

“I’m super proud just of our whole group,” Elliott said. “I feel like we really kind of persevered through multiple challenges today. I didn’t think we started the day off great, but we were able to kind of fight back, get to where we had a lot of pace there at the end. I’m really proud of that.”

Prior to Elliott’s statements, NASCAR announced that Hendrick and Petty would sign and auction off part of Elliott’s No. 9 car from the race with proceeds benefitting the Victory Junction Gang, a charity that aids terminally ill children. The charity was formed by Petty and his son Kyle in honor of fourth-generation racer Adam Petty, who tragically perished at the age of 19 in a crash during a 2000 practice run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns next Sunday for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET, Fox). This Memorial Day Weekend tradition is the longest event on the NASCAR circuit at 600 miles (400 laps around the 1.5-mile oval).

Race Notes

  • Alas for HMS, the early stoppage caused one streak to come to an end. Coming home 11th, Byron saw his streak of consecutive top ten finishes severed at 11.

 

  • Allmendinger’s fifth-place finish was the best in five races for Kaluig Racing. He is currently competing for an Xfinity Series title for Kaulig, sitting third in the standings. Allmendinger’s lone Cup Series win came with JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 in 2014 at Watkins Glen.

 

  • Rookie Chase Briscoe posted his best career finish in sixth.

 

  • Sunday’s starting lineup was set by traditional qualifying, which has mostly been cast aside to compact race weekends into a single day during the ongoing health crisis. Tyler Reddick earned his first career pole with a time of 2:12.911.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Hendrick Motorsports dominates historic day at Dover

Hendrick Motorsports ruled the day at Dover International Speedway, as Alex Bowman took home the team’s 267th victory.

No matter how well your weekend’s going, it’s probably nothing compared to what Hendrick Motorsports enjoyed on Sunday afternoon.

A new kind of monster took over Dover International Speedway, best known as the Monster Mile, as HMS Chevrolets led all but 18 of 400 laps of the Drydene 400. It was Alex Bowman’s No. 48 that led the final 97, using fast service on pit road to his advantage en route to his second victory of the season. His teammates completed a clean sweep of the top four, with Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and William Byron following him. Larson’s No. 5 led the most laps on the after (258). It marked the first time a single team swept the first four spots in a race since Roush Racing did so at the end of the 2005 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Bowman’s win, the fourth of his career, was also the 267th visit to victory lane for team owner Rick Hendrick. The next will tie Richard Petty for most wins amongst Cup Series owners.

Larson appeared to be well on his way to his own second victory of the season, as only pit cycles interrupted his stranglehold on the lead for a majority of the race. He first took the lead after pit stops during a competition caution at lap 37 and led all but three of the next 267 circuits.

The No. 48 team seized its opportunity after the caution waved for Aric Almirola’s wrecked No. 10 Ford with just under 100 to go. Bowman brought his Chevrolet down pit road for a stop that lasted 12.1776 seconds, the fastest four-tire service in the 2021 season to date. He would go on to lead the final 97 laps to create his first-career multi-win season and set up the Hendrick quartet.

“If we don’t beat the 5 off pit road, we probably don’t beat him in the race. I give (the crew) all the credit for the win there,” Bowman said. “I think without them we wouldn’t have gotten it done. So appreciate (crew chief Greg Ives) and all those guys working so hard throughout the week to continue to get better. They’ve been super fast all year.”

With restrictions in place due to the ongoing health crisis slowly being loosened, Bowman was allowed to celebrate the win with his crew in victory lane. The team also won at Richmond last month, becoming one of two drivers to win multiple races in 2021 (the other being three-time winner Martin Truex Jr.)

Winning at Dover resumes an unofficial tradition of sorts for HMS’ No. 48 Chevrolet. The prior occupant, seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, won a career-best 11 races at the mile-long speedway, including a sweep of the two races in his rookie season in 2002. Bowman, previously driving the No. 88 for the team after being handpicked by Hendrick Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the role, was chosen to fill in.

Bowman was happy to not only vindicate Hendrick’s trust in him to fulfill an iconic ride but to win at Dover using tips he gained from Johnson during his first year in the No. 88.

“To come to a place like Dover, where the 48 has had so much success, get a win here, (I’ve) never won here with Mr. Hendrick here, so it’s so cool to be able to do that,” Bowman said. “I feel like throughout my career I’ve had my fair share of doubters. To be able to get two wins here to start off the season, be having a good start to the year, is really cool.”

Hendrick entered the Cup Series in 1984 and has won 13 Cup Series titles, the last coming with Elliott’s triumph last year. Even though Elliott has yet to win a race in 2021, each Hendrick car would be a playoff participant midway through the 26-race regular season. Byron has been particularly impressive, earning top ten finishes in each of the last 11 events while piloting the No. 24 Chevrolet previously repped by four-time champ Jeff Gordon.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday, as the series will make its debut at the Circuit of the Americas road course in Austin for the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1).

Race Notes

  • Joey Logano was the top non-Hendrick finisher, rounding out the top five in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

 

  • Points-leader Denny Hamlin finished seventh.

 

  • In the last two spots of the top ten, Daniel Suarez and Cole Custer each earned their second such finishes of the year. They beat out Bubba Wallace, who came home 11th, the best finish to date for his No. 23 23XI Toyota squad.

 

  • Josh Berry finished 30th in his NASCAR Cup Series debut. Berry took over for Justin Haley in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet after the Xfinity Series regular was ruled out due to COVID-19 protocols. Berry was the runner-up in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Dover, driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

For full results, click here

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Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: Martin Truex dominates NASCAR’s throwback visit to Darlington

Martin Truex Jr. won his third race of the NASCAR Cup Series season by leading 248 of 293 laps at the Goodyear 400.

For his throwback endeavor at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, Martin Truex Jr. drove a black car inspired by his championship triumphs throughout NASCAR’s national series. He fully lived up to the billing in the actual event.

Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota led 248 of 293 laps in NASCAR’s annual celebration of turning back the clock, pacing a series of retro paint schemes to earn his third victory of the season at the Goodyear 400. Kyle Larson finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, William Byron, and Denny Hamlin.

Sunday’s win was the 30th of Truex’s career and his third this Cup Series season through a dozen events, having also won at Phoenix and Martinsville. He is currently the only driver in the Cup Series with multiple visits to victory lane with 24 races remaining on the docket. Each of his 2021 victories has come under a 750-horsepower, low-downforce race setup package. The package will bookend the ten-race NASCAR Cup Series postseason slate this fall, returning to Darlington in September and ending back in Phoenix two months later.

“Love low downforce, so I’m gonna say, I love it,” Truex said with a smile after the race. “I feel like, especially this year, with all three races that we won in with this package, the guys and girls at JGR doing a great job…it really was just a fun day, a big challenge, and I just got to give it out to my guys for giving me a great car and doing all the real things right.”

Truex started fourth on Sunday and first took the lead at lap 22 from his teammate Busch and proceeded to lead all but 23 laps afterward. To commemorate NASCAR’s annual “throwback” race, Truex drove a matte black Camry, a nod to his championship season driving a similarly colored Toyota for now-defunct Furniture Row Racing in 2017.

“I think it definitely had some good old Furniture Row, flat black mojo in it,” Truex said. “It was really fun, (but) I don’t know if it’s a statement (win). In this sport, you get judged week-to-week. If we go and run 10th next weekend, they’re gonna say okay, you know, the 19 is down, they’re not that good anymore. We just tried to try to take it week-to-week and have fun.”

“Our guys are doing a great job right now and when your cars are fast, things are clicking, and you know you’re having fun this is the coolest job in the world. When when you’re struggling, it’s probably the most difficult, because all the fingers get pointed at us. We’re going to enjoy it and just keep working hard.”

Truex held a healthy lead for almost all of the race’s latter stages, opening up a lead as wide as 14 seconds while winning the first two stages. Late in the race, Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet got to Truex’s bumper after the final cycle of green flag pit stops with circa 40 laps to go. Truex withstood the late challenge and rebuilt his lead to 2.5 seconds when the checkered flag waved. Joe Gibbs Racing has now earned wins in consecutive events, with Busch winning at Kansas last weekend. Hamlin is winless but continues to lead the points standings, while Christopher Bell is likewise on the playoff grid through a win at the Daytona road course. Bell was running in the top five before a lost tire relegated him to 14th.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action at Dover International Speedway for the Drydene 400 next Sunday afternoon (2 p.m. ET, FS1).

Race Notes

  • Byron’s fourth-place finish gives him top ten finishes in ten consecutive races.

 

  • The early portions of the race, particularly the openings of the first two stages, were marred by wrecks that took out some notable names early. Aric Almirola lasted only five laps before his day ended, while Kurt Busch and Cole Custer were each eliminated in separate incidents at the start of stage two.

 

  • Erik Jones (18th) saw his streak of consecutive top ten finishes at Darlington end at six, done in by a late unscheduled pit stop that put him off the lead lap.

For full standings, click here

For full results, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Kyle Busch earns a birthday sweep at Kansas

A multitude of cautions led to a two-lap shootout at Kansas, where birthday boy Kyle Busch won his first NASCAR Cup Series race of 2021.

With a name like the Buschy McBusch Race 400, it was only appropriate that one of the Busch brothers earned their first NASCAR Cup Series win at Sunday’s event at Kansas Speedway.

The younger Kyle Busch took the honors on Sunday, celebrating his 36th birthday with the 58th victory of his Cup Series career. Busch also won the Camping World Truck Series event on Saturday night. On the premier Cup level, he survived a wild two-lap shootout brought on by a late multitude of cautions to earn the victory. Kevin Harvick finished second, followed by Brad Keselowski, Matt DiBenedetto, and Chase Elliott.

Busch’s win is involved in several historical marks. He reties Harvick at 58 career Cup Series wins, becoming the 10th driver to reach that tally, and has now won at least one Cup race in each of the last 17 seasons, tying David Pearson for the second-longest such streak of all-time (Richard Petty leads at 18). Busch also becomes the second driver to win multiple races on his birthday, joining Cale Yarborough. A previous celebration came at Richmond in 2009. The victory also came at an emotional time for Busch, as he and his wife Samantha have been open about their struggles with fertility. Samantha did not attend Sunday’s race, encouraged by Kyle to take their five-year-old son Brexton to his own racing event.

The Kansas race ran incident-free for over 200 laps before the course of the event changed during the final cycle of green-flag pit stops. A loose tire from Tyler Reddick’s No. 8 stall landed at the edge of the divide between pit road and the infield. Race officials opted to wait until every car pitted before waving the yellow flag for debris.

That yellow ended the domination of Kyle Larson, who led a race-high 132 laps and held a large lead over Busch when the yellow came out with 37 laps to go. That caution begat three others, as separate incidents removed Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Christopher Bell from contention. Busch took the lead at lap 257 of 267, shortly before a wreck between Bell and Stenhouse also took out Ryan Preece.

Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota began the final restart starting next to Ryan Blaney, who a push from Larson behind him. That shove was a bit too strong, as Blaney got loose, removing them both from victory consideration, and relegating Larson to 19th and Blaney down to 21st. Busch thus drove away for the win, becoming the 10th different driver to win over the 2021 season’s first 11 races. Kansas will host one of the ten playoff races later this fall.

The NASCAR Cup Series will return to action next weekend at Darlington Raceway, as the circuit celebrates its annual “throwback weekend” on Mother’s Day through the Goodyear 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1).

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – MAY 02: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Mix Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 02, 2021 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Race Notes

  • William Byron finished ninth, extending his streak of top ten finishes to a series-long nine.

 

  • With his fourth-place finish, DiBenedetto is now the current holder of the final NASCAR Cup Series playoff spot, holding it by 12 points over Kurt Busch.

 

  • Keselowski, the pole sitter, led the first 72 laps after winning last weekend’s race at Talladega.

 

  • Matt Mills made his Cup Series debut in a Ford owned by competitor BJ McLeod, finishing 38th.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags