By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Heading into the 2016 Daytona 500, Hendrick Motorsports seemed like they would over-power the field for the win. As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads out of Daytona, none of Hendrick’s four drivers are able to boast that they finished inside the top-10 of ‘The Great American Race’. This is the first time since the 2009 edition of this event that all of Hendrick Motorsports’ cars failed to finish inside the top-10.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, and Saturday’s XFINITY Series race winner, Chase Elliott started the day from the pole, and led the race’s first three laps, and he looked to be settling into the pack after losing the lead to his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
However by lap 20, Elliott was in the garage after spinning in turn four.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas to win all week long. He was fast in qualifying, fast in practice, and he made a dramatic move for a win in the Can-Am Duel on Thursday. Earnhardt came out strong early on Sunday as well.
Earnhardt led 15 laps early, and hung around inside the top-10 all day long. However on lap 170, Earnhardt found misfortune in turn four as well.
Elliott and Earnhardt would finish 36th and 37th respectively.
Jimmie Johnson had a shot at victory as well. He led the race once for 18 laps, and looked to be in the thick of the hunt, but Johnson was busted for his pit crew jumping over the wall too soon on a green flag pit stop with 44 laps to go. This put Johnson deep in the pack, and the two-time Daytona 500 champion could only muster a 16th-place result.
Even with the not-so-great finish, Johnson was happy with the speed in his car.
“That didn’t go our way today,” Johnson said, “but the Lowe’s guys gave me a great Chevy and worked so hard this week. I’m excited about this season with this team.”
Kasey Kahne ended up carrying the Hendrick banner on the day, but even he was only able to come home in 13th after a very uneventful day.
“I just never really had a chance there at the end, but we had a really good Farmers Insurance Chevy,” Kahne said. “[Crew chief] Keith [Rodden] made good adjustments during the race but we needed to be closer to the front at the end.”
Not only is this just the first time since 2009 that Hendrick hasn’t fielded a top-10 finisher in the Daytona 500, but its also just the fifth time this has happened since Hendrick Motorsports enetered into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series back in 1984.
Although it doesn’t sound promising, not having a top-10 finisher on Sunday may not necessarily mean bad things for Hendrick Motorsports’ championship hopes. The last three times Hendrick hasn’t had a top-10 finisher in the 500 (1998, 2001 and 2009), one of his drivers has gone on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Image: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images