Hendrick Team Confident That Elliott’s Time Is Coming

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 19 2021

Chase Elliott and his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team have not driven to victory lane this year – yet. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

In a season that has produced one surprise after another, three of Hendrick Motorsports’ four teams have generated a victory when no one expected it. Yet, the organization’s championship team remains winless.

Still, Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Jeff Andrews believes a victory for series champion Chase Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson is on the horizon. Elliott is seventh in the standings and has recorded three top-five and four top-10 finishes. He’s failed to finish only one race, losing an engine in his Chevrolet at Atlanta.

“We have the utmost confidence in those two guys, in that team,” Andrews said. “You go through these spells where we have had good runs. Look at last week (at Martinsville). They had a really good car. They came up a little bit short. It’s not been that the performance hasn’t been there. I think it’s more we’re looking for a little bit of consistency.”      

On Sunday, Alex Bowman joined Hendrick teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson on the 2021 winner’s list with his victory in Richmond Raceway’s Toyota Owners 400. That boosted him from 17th to 13th in the standings and guaranteed him a playoff berth.  

Bowman’s third career win also placed the No. 48 Chevrolet in victory lane for the first time since June 2017 at Dover, Del., when seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was the car’s driver. Ironically, Bowman’s victory came on the same day that Johnson made his NTT IndyCar Series debut with a 19th-place finish in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. 

“I clicked over to IndyCar there a couple of times during the race just to kind of give a quick peep and see where he was at, see how he was doing,” Andrews said. “I sent him a text a couple of days ago wishing him luck on his new endeavor.  We care about him. We want him to have success.”

Last year, the Hendrick organization recorded seven victories with Elliott owning five of them. However, changes made since last season have elevated Hendrick’s performance and given it more consistency. Those changes include Chevrolet’s request that Hendrick’s and Richard Childress Racing’s engine programs work together. 

“I think it’s made a huge difference for both programs,” Andrews said. “There have been nothing but positives that have come out of that on all fronts. Jim Wall, who runs our engine program, and Richie Gilmore, who runs the ECR engine program, both of those guys have locked arms. Just the way the two programs have come together and been able to realize some efficiencies and also been able to realize some real gains in horsepower as well. We’ve been really, really pleased with the relationship.” 

 Bowman’s surprise victory provided Hendrick with its first win at the three-quarter mile track since 2008. That win came with Johnson, but crew chief Greg Ives said it was feedback he received from Dale Earnhardt Jr. when he was his driver that led to Sunday’s victory.

“I think we were running top five, top eight, something like that (with Dale),” Ives recounted. “We had an adjustment late. It worked OK, but didn’t work quite exactly how we wanted. He didn’t yell at me, but he advised me on some of the things that this track did in the last 50 laps. 

“At the start of the race (Sunday), we knew we had a 30-lap run there. We made some adjustments to try that. I’m not going to sit here and lie. I knew we were going in the right direction.” 

A caution with 18 laps remaining provided Ives with the opportunity he needed to make critical late-race adjustments on Bowman’s Chevrolet. Although Ives wasn’t specific about the adjustments, Bowman, like third-place finisher Joey Logano, figured it was with the air pressure in the tires since Bowman didn’t see his crew make a chassis adjustment.

  When the race restarted with 11 laps remaining, Denny Hamlin was leading, Logano was second and Bowman third. However, when they came to the choose line, Hamlin took the inside while Logano went to his outside. Bowman dropped to the inside behind Hamlin, who dominated the race leading six times for 207 of the 400 laps. However, Hamlin maintained the lead for only one lap before Bowman shot past him to take over the No. 1 position with 10 laps remaining.

“I think the 48 kind of snookered everybody,” Logano said. “They made great adjustments to make their care fire off better. What we saw was him being lights out for five, six laps. Then it equaled out. If he didn’t get to the lead in the first two or three laps, he was done. He took advantage of it, got by everybody pretty quick. Kind of made us all look kind of goofy there for a minute.”

Despite Bowman having to weave his way through lapped traffic in the final two laps, he managed to finish 0.381second ahead of Hamlin. 

The Richmond race was the final short-track event this spring. The drivers now travel to Talladega Superspeedway, the circuit’s biggest facility at 2.66 miles. Sunday’s race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., ET. 


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 19 2021
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