With with two races remaining in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, an all-Hendrick Motorsports Championship 4 already appears unlikely.
Indeed, Hendrick is in serious danger of having two of its four drivers eliminated from the playoffs after the first round.
HMS drivers Alex Bowman and William Byron are both out of title contention heading into Saturday night’s cutoff race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Bowman, 28, is now tied for 14th in the playoff standings with Kurt Busch, but would lose a tiebreaker. In 15th place and 18 points behind the cutoff, Byron is in a considerably more vulnerable position.
The two drivers have a total of four victories between them, part of HMS’s 11 victories in the 26-race regular season.
It’s impossible to imagine Hendrick drivers making multiple early exits from the playoffs, especially given the organization’s summer dominance.
At one point, Hendrick drivers won six consecutive races and seven of eight. Kyle Larson’s scored Hendrick’s most recent win, Aug. 8 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Struggling to make ground
The race at Richmond (Va.) Raceway this past weekend did little to help Bowman or Byron’s playoff standing. Bowman finished 12th after breaking into the top-10 late in Stage 2 but losing a lap in the final stage.
“We were really good at the end of Stage 2. We didn’t make any adjustments and we were really bad at the beginning of Stage 3,” Bowman said. “We just had a set of tires that didn’t agree with our race car and got a lap down there. It’s hard to overcome that.
“Bummer for all of our guys. I feel like we did a good job throughout the course of the race at getting our car better from where we started. We just didn’t end where we needed to end. On the bubble going into Bristol, but just have to go do my job and hopefully we have a fast (car) there and go get the job done.”
Bowman’s track record at Bristol is hit-or-miss. In ten starts on the concrete track, he has only finished all of the laps twice. He has, however, placed fifth and eighth on two occasions.
Byron struggled throughout the whole race at Richmond after wrecking out of the playoff opener at Darlington, South Carolina. He started 14th and finished 19th, two laps down.
“We were just really bad. We finished seventh here in the spring and felt like we had something decent,” Byron said. “We tweaked some stuff to try and get a little better. I think the best we got was we got to 11th one time.”
Going for the win
Byron, 23, says he has a straightforward approach to this weekend’s Bristol race.
“Just try to race hard and see if we can win it. That’s pretty much what we probably have to do,” he said. “Bristol is an OK track for me. I feel like we’ll have a much better car there. We just have to get there and race as hard as we can.”
In six starts on the Bristol concrete track, Byron has just one top-10 finish and has never led a lap. He wrecked out of the Bristol Night Race one year ago and finished 38th.
Of course, whatever of their points position, if Bowman or Byron win in Bristol, they will automatically advance to the Round of 12.
The uniforms of Formula 1 racing drivers are currently available at the following websites for a reasonable price: