Long: Richmond victory caps big week for Hendrick Motorsports
RICHMOND, Va. — As Jeff Gordon watched Kyle Larson’s Victory Lane celebration Sunday night at Richmond Raceway, he smiled at how this week had gone so well for Hendrick Motorsports.
Four days after an appeal panel rescinded the 100-point and 10-playoff point penalties to the Hendrick drivers and teams, the organization reveled in its second 1-2 finish of the season.
“The timing of everything coming together this week was huge,” said Gordon, vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports. “Then these guys stepped up, too, when they got to the racetrack. Eventhough we didn’t have practice or qualifying, they showed what they’re capable of today.
“Certainly off to a great start this season with William (Byron’s two) wins, now this win, Alex (Bowman) has been really, really strong week in and week out, and the No. 9 (team) has been strong.”
Larson gave Hendrick Motorsports its third win of the season (in seven races) and Josh Berry, filling in for an injured Chase Elliott, placed a career-best second. Had William Byron not been spun late in the event, Hendrick Motorsports might have had its second 1-2-3 finish of the season.
“This has historically been a really bad track for Hendrick,” Larson said. “So to have all of us run up front majority of the day, come away with a one-two finish, lead as many laps as we did between William and I, it was the best day I think Hendrick has had at Richmond in decades probably.”
Sunday marked the first time since May 2007 that Hendrick cars finished 1-2 at Richmond.
It seems the parity that was prevalent last season — with a record-tying 19 different winners — could be gone. Hendrick Motorsports has shown to be the strongest team this season, which reached the quarter mark of the regular season Sunday.
Hendrick drivers rank first (Bowman), fourth (Byron) and sixth (Larson) in the standings.
They’ve dominated at Phoenix and Richmond, which share some similarities even though they are different sized tracks. Hendrick drivers have combined to lead 68.8% of the laps run at those two tracks this year.
The series heads next to Bristol for the dirt race. While Hendrick Motorsports has not won either of the previous two dirt races there, the schedule does set up well for the next few weeks. After Bristol is Martinsville, where Byron won last spring. Then comes Talladega, where Chase Elliott won in the playoffs last year. Depending on how Elliott’s recovery goes, he could be close to returning by then.
Until he’s ready, Berry will drive the No. 9 car. Berry benefitted from pit strategy Sunday that helped him gain track position in the final stage. Still, he had to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I’ve been learning a lot,” Berry said. “There’s so much more to learn. Days like today do a lot for confidence.”
As Berry talked to the media on pit road, Gordon came by to congratulate him.
“Good job, man,” Gordon said, high-fiving and hugging Berry. “That was awesome. That must have felt good, huh?
“Yeah,” Berry said.
“You fought hard for that one.”
And so did Hendrick, not only for Sunday’s result but Wednesday’s appeal.
NASCAR penalized the Hendrick drivers and teams 100 points each and 10 playoff points for modifications to the hood louvers on each of the team’s four cars. NASCAR also suspended each team’s crew chief four races and fined them $100,000 for the infraction discovered before practice at Phoenix last month.
Hendrick appealed. The appeal panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule, but gave the points back while keeping the fines and suspensions in place.
“I still think we laid out enough evidence that we should have had our crew chiefs back and the money as well, but we’ll take it,” Gordon said.
Wins always help.