Hendrick Motorsports drivers face elimination at the ROVAL

(Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Hendrick Motorsports drivers have combined for 12 victories in 31 races this season, but it may no longer matter. Despite an incredible regular season as an organization, all four HMS drivers risk elimination on Sunday at the Charlotte ROVAL. Yes, even Kyle Larson.

Larson won five races in the regular season, including a stretch of three points-paying victories in a row this spring. He won the all-star race at Texas Motor Speedway and finished the Round of 16 with a win in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway for his sixth victory of the season.

Now, headed to the ROVAL, Larson looks to finish the Round of 12 the same way. The regular-season champion entered last weekend’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway with a 53-point cushion, but a crash with Justin Allgaier on Lap 56 gave Larson damage. He finished in 37th place and his points advantage narrowed to just 22.

“We’ve run first and second a lot this year on road courses,” Larson said. “Chase [Elliott] set the bar – you pay attention to how he’s doing and where he’s running. It’s been fun to compete with him on the road courses and we both have a couple wins. Hopefully, we’re battling with all our teammates for stage wins and the victory this weekend.”

Elliott enters the Round of 12 finale nine points above the cutline and as the favorite to win at the ROVAL. He’s won back-to-back races on the circuit, including a late-race drive from the rear of the field in 2019 after missing Turn 1 and plowing into the wall with 43 laps to go.

“Yeah, it was a wild day, for sure,” Elliott said. “Looking back on that, it’s like things are going really good, and then I thought our day was over, and just barely had enough time to get back up front. I got super fortunate. Obviously, the car wasn’t hurt too bad. I think that was probably the biggest thing of the day was just the angle that I hit and the amount of barrier that was soft at that particular spot. I mean it wasn’t like I planned all that, you know. I just got super fortunate on how it worked out. The car wasn’t hurt, and we had enough time to fight back up through there and have a shot”.

Although Elliott could advance on points, a win would solidify his spot in the Round of 8.

“Stage points are going to be super valuable,” Elliott said. “You also have to be aware of the guys who are kind of out of reach on making it in on points. They’re going to call a different race than the guys that need stage points. Road courses typically lend to drivers and teams jumping stages to allow them a better track position location for the following stage or the final stage or for the second stage. And that’s going to be hard to do, frankly, for guys who need the points.

“You certainly want to be aware of what’s going on, at least leading in. And that’s kind of my approach. I’m like look, you know, we don’t have ton of buffer. But the best way to get points is to go and win the stages. They offer 10 points to win each stage and that’s a lot. So, I would like to have both of those and would certainly like to have another sticker. So, my goal is to retrieve all three.”

On the other hand, the other two Hendrick Motorsports drivers are in must-win situations to advance to the Round of 8. Alex Bowman has just two top-10s since New Hampshire in July, and finishes of 22nd and 38th in the Round of 12 put him 52 points below the cutline. However, top-10 finishes in each of the three races at the ROVAL give Bowman hope for Sunday.

Alex Bowman must win on Sunday to advance beyond the Round of 12. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

“We are going into this weekend’s race at the ROVAL knowing that we most likely need to find victory lane in order to advance,” Bowman said. “We have finished well here before, so we really need to focus on what we can control. The Ally team has been working hard on this road course Chevrolet and I know we will have a shot at it on Sunday.”

As for William Byron, he sits 44 points below the cutline after a DNF at Talladega. He was caught up in the late-race caution with Ryan Preece that led to the red flag for rain and the eventual end of the race. Much like Bowman, Byron approaches the ROVAL with confidence after sixth-place finishes on the circuit in each of the last two seasons.

“I feel like there is really nothing to lose for us,” Byron said. “We’re 44 points out. We’re not going to make it on points. We’ve got to go win. We know what we have to do to do that…. but it hasn’t been a good round for us as far as luck goes, I guess. We’ve had a flat tire and gotten wrecked and so, it’s not been good. But I think we can make up for all of that on Sunday and we’re very capable of that. So yeah, we just go into it with nothing to lose. We either win or get out of the Playoffs.

“With this track, we’ve continued to work on it. We’ve continued to get better and better. I’ve had a pole there in the past. I’ve led a bunch of laps there over the last two years. So, it’s not a track that I feel like we can’t win. We just have to continue to make those gains that we’ve been making on the road courses. So, I think we’re really capable this weekend of doing it”.

The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs continue Sunday at the Charlotte ROVAL.

 

Nathan Solomon

I'm Nathan Solomon, a sophomore in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. I serve as the Sports Editor for our campus newspaper, The BonaVenture, and as the programming director for our campus radio station, WSBU 88.3FM. Our station is rated the No. 4 college radio station in the country by Princeton Review.

My journey as a motorsports writer may have only started in 2020, but I've written since 2018. I started as a beat writer for IvyHoopsOnline in my junior year of high school, covering my hometown Cornell Basketball. In 2019, I began contributing New York Yankees content for Empire Sports Media. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, I began contributing NASCAR content for Empire Sports Media and covered two races in 2021 with the website. I came over to The Podium Finish in September of 2021 ready to continue writing original motorsports content on a page specific to racing.

You can follow me on Twitter @NSolly02.

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