Roger Diez: Hendrick Motorsports reaches milestone

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

Seven races into the 1984 season, Rick Hendrick had exhausted his racing budget and was about to throw in the towel. But crew chief Harry Hyde convinced him to put Geoff Bodine into the No. 5 Chevy at Martinsville for one last try. Bodine won the 500 lapper, Hendrick continued, and last Sunday in Texas William Byron brought home the No. 24 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports’ 300th win.

There was a time when such an accomplishment would have been a long shot. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, 1997 was the best of times and the worst of times for Rick Hendrick. His team finished 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500 and Jeff Gordon took the Winston Cup championship. But Hendrick also revealed a diagnosis of myelogenous leukemia and was indicted on bribery, kickback, and mail fraud charges. Due to his medical condition, Hendrick avoided jail time, instead sentenced to a year of home detention and a $250,000 fine.

Then in 2004, Hendrick’s son Ricky and nine members of the organization died in a plane crash on the way to a race at Martinsville. Despite these tragedies, Rick Hendrick and his organization survived, thrived, and have now set a milestone unparalleled in racing.

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At Texas on Sunday, Byron bought himself a ticket to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs with his sixth victory of the season. For a while it looked like Bubba Wallace had a lock on his third career win, starting from the pole and leading 111 of the race’s 267 laps. Wallace was the first Toyota to cross the finish line, in third place behind Chevrolets of Byron and Ross Chastain and ahead of Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin in Toyotas. The Fords of Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski were sixth and seventh.

Despite a very good day, Wallace is two points below the cut line heading into Talladega this weekend, due to lack of playoff points.

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Talladega is one of those wild-card races where anything can (and will) happen. At least one “big one” is almost a guarantee, producing unlikely winners as the favorites are caught up in wrecks.

Among the 11 active drivers who have won there, Keselowski is at the top of the heap with six victories while Joey Logano has three. Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, and Kyle Busch are all two-time Talladega winners. And Chastain, Wallace, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kevin Harvick have one win each.

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Saturday’s events at Talladega include the Love’s RV Stop 250 for Craftsman Trucks at 10 a.m. on FS1 and Cup qualifying on USA at 1:30 p.m. Sunday’s Yellawood 500 airs on NBC starting at 11 a.m.

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Last Sunday’s Lenovo Japanese Grand Prix was back to business as usual, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen starting on pole and winning with a 19-second margin.

But the story of the race was the McLaren team, with the duo of Lando Norris and Nick Piastri taking the other two podium spots.

Even though Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez retired early, Max’s win put Red Bull over the top to win the 2023 constructors’ championship. And Verstappen is only three points away from clinching the drivers’ title.

Next weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix is the first of three remaining sprint race weekends, so a sixth place finish on Saturday would make Verstappen the 2023 World Driving Champion with five races to go in the season. It will be his third championship, although his 2021 title is somewhat tainted by the scandal over officiating at the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

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