By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It’s common in some forms of motorsports to see one multi-car team completely dominate the competition. What about on a single race day when every car were at their peak?
For Hendrick Motorsports, they’ve done it already in the 1997 Daytona 500 with a podium sweep. Everyone knows the story about Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven finishing in that order. They did it for Rick, who gave Gordon a phone call after winning his first of three Daytona 500s.
However, HMS accomplished something that’s only been done three times in NASCAR Cup Series history. That feat being sweeping the top-four spots which was done in Sunday’s Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway.
“Every time you’re in a race, you like to see them run 1-2-3-4. The feeling is unbelievable,” said Hendrick. “It was probably the longest last hundred laps that I’ve ever seen in a race just because I kind of wanted to see it so bad, so close.
“To be able to pull that off, that’s kind of one of those things in racing that you would say was on your bucket list. I’m extremely happy and proud of all the guys. It was a great day for the organization.”
How rare is this feat? The last time a Cup squad had a 1-2-3-4 finish took place in the 2005 Ford 400 at Homestead.
On that November night, Roush Fenway Racing capped off its strongest season with Greg Biffle ekeing out Mark Martin to win. Behind the thrilling battle were Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.
The other two top-four sweeps took place before the Modern Era. 1925 Indianapolis 500 winner Pete DePaolo had four of his cars accomplish this feat at Titusville (1956) and North Wilkesboro (1957). Both of those were won by legendary racer Fireball Roberts.
Unlike the other feats, HMS had all of its cars finish in that order as the aforementioned Roush and even DePaolo had five entries. The fifth Roush entry, driven by Kenny Wallace, crossed the line in 21st. As for DePaolo’s fifth entries, Allen Adkins finished sixth in the ’56 feat and Joe Weatherly was 15th in ’57.
Rick Hendrick was all smiles when his organization joined a rare club. Now, his operation that began in 1984 is a win away from equaling Petty Enterprises for the most all-time Cup wins by team at 268. As Hendrick said it best during the post-race video call, “the future is bright” and poised of re-writing the record books some more.
“I think we are set for a really good run here for the next years, multiple years. I like where we are. This doesn’t mean a lot. This means we did it one time out of 40 years, I guess,” said Hendrick. “We just got to stay sharp and not think that we’re ahead of anybody, but we just got to race to be there.
“I think we got great momentum right now. I can’t believe William has 11 top 10s and run up front a lot, I mean, lead, and he’s won two races, last year and this year. I think we’re ahead of schedule with Alex. Chase showed what he can do last year. Having Kyle in the mix, his talent, just makes everybody better.”
As for the race itself, Rick’s cars led a combined total 382 of 400 laps with runner-up Larson leading 263 of them. When the checkered flag was waved, Bowman noted that his second win of 2021 was all on his No. 48 Ally crew, not himself.
The reference goes back to the final caution flag pit stop when a 13-second stop by Larson to Bowman’s 11-second stop was all the difference. From there, Bowman was in a league of his own and did so with Mr. H in the house.
“I don’t think I’ve won with (Rick) here before, so that’s really cool. Just so proud of this pit crew,” said Bowman. “It was obviously a rough off season for us and a big void to fill. Not that we’re ever going to fill the void that Rowdy (Harrell) left, but Allen (Stallings) is doing a really good job and the whole pit crew is doing a really good job.
“Thanks to my spotter, Kevin Hamlin, for couching me there at the end. It was fun racing Kyle (Larson) and glad to get Hendrick Motorsports another win.”
Gutted to come up short at another 2021 triumph yet again, Larson still had some positive outlooks. While not being at HMS for that long compared to the other three teammates, the vibe is oozing excitement. One man in particular Larson noted has played a role into the team’s all-around positivity in 2021.
“They’ve obviously had an amazing race team for a very, very long time,” said Larson. “I have found it interesting, multiple times throughout this year Marshall Carlson at HMS, he’ll talk about how everybody in the shop is so excited to be working there, working on our race cars, never seen the organization happier and more excited to go racing than they are right now.
“I find that crazy to think because you look at all the races that Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, they’ve had multiple, like, powerhouse drivers at one time on their team,” Larson continued. “For them to be saying this is the most excited they’ve ever been is pretty unreal to me when we’ve got four young guys in the sport who haven’t really won many races, when you really think about it, compared to the guys that used to be there before us.
“I think maybe he’s saying a little bit of the future is what gets everybody really excited there. Yeah, just an awesome day for the organization. Glad I could be a part of it.”
What about third and fourth-place finishers Chase Elliott and William Byron?
Both drivers had noble afternoons with Elliott continuing to turn his title defense campaign around. Still not where he’d like to be despite communications not being any different. That aside, Elliott is pleased to be a part of a neat accomplishment.
“(Rick) picked a good one today. Yeah, just proud of our whole team,” said Elliott. “Everybody, HMS, I feel like we have a really talented group of people that work really hard. It’s just nice to see their hard work awarded like that, in that manner, in that type of domination.
“Those guys led, I guess Kyle and Alex, pretty much led the whole race. Really cool. Just really proud of everybody. Glad to be a part of the team.”
Rounding out the top-four was Byron, who continues to hit his consistent stride with 11 straight top-10s. Like the theme of Sunday, credit goes to the organization as much as their own performance. Most certainly, teamwork in racing comes a long way and were rewarded at “The Monster Mile.”
“Yeah, that was awesome,” said Byron. “For us to finish 1-2-3-4 is just a credit to a lot of great people at the shop, Chevrolet, Axalta, and all the people that support us to get us the resources; and then our teams, the crew chiefs, drivers and pit crews executing really good races.
“For us, it’s been going for a while. We’ve just got to get a little bit. It sucks to be fourth, but I think we’re close. We just have to work on some things on our car, get the right feels, but we’re getting really close. So, we keep chipping away. We’ve had two fourth-place finishes in a row. We’ll take it and move on.”
When people look back at mid-May 2021, it’ll be a race day where Hendrick Motorsports ruled. They’ve been dominant over the years, but not in quite some time. With the regular season halfway done, Sunday symbolized how strong they’ve become once again. As good as they are again with all four entries, Hendrick admitted he hasn’t been that nervous in a race.
“It was a great day for the organization. Alex, congratulations to him. This is a sign of the guys working together and bringing good stuff to the track,” said Hendrick. “I don’t think it’ll hit me maybe until tomorrow that we were able to finish 1-2-3-4. That’s pretty hard to do. Things can happen; pit stops, tires, anything. But that’s a first and we’ll take it. It was a great day for us.”