It had been a tumultuous weekend for Hendrick Motorsports when William Byron decided to do something he seldom does — text his boss.
He told team owner Rick Hendrick that as poorly as the weekend began with Chase Elliott suffering a broken leg while snowboarding Friday, Byron felt good it would end with a strong finish Sunday.
Indeed it did. Led by Byron’s victory in the Las Vegas NASCAR Cup Series race, Hendrick Chevrolets occupied to the top three places.
“I think just shows the strength that our teams have and the ability to come together in tough situations,” Byron said. “I think I speak for everyone in the fact that we miss Chase out here. He’s a big contributor to feedback and our debriefs, and he’s a great race car driver. Has a lot to offer there. I think there was a void there, but I think we were able to fill it with just kind of coming together as a team.”
Hendrick drivers are going to have to continue to perform without Elliott, the 2020 Cup Series champion, for the foreseeable future. He is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair his broken left leg after the accident in Colorado. His family owns a home at Vail, Colorado.
Elliott is back home in Dawsonville, Georgia, and he began physical therapy yesterday [Macau time].
Josh Berry took the wheel of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy, and the team had to scramble to make adjustments on short notice. Berry finished 29th, and Hendrick general manager Jeff Andrews said there would be discussions on whether Berry or another driver will be in the seat when the series moves to Phoenix this weekend.
“Josh did an amazing job for us given the circumstances,” Andrews said after the race. “And given the fact he’s not ever been in one of these Next-Gen cars before, really happy with what he did for us today.”
Andrews said Berry’s car had a throttle issue that needs to be fixed.
Hendrick will try to carry the momentum.
Even with the Byron winning, Kyle Larson finishing second and Alex Bowman coming in third, there is still ground to make up in the standings. Bowman is second, Byron 13th and Larson 14th.
Bowman has been the most consistent driver of the trio, registering top-10 finishes in all three races with Las Vegas being his high point.
Byron was part of a 13-car crash at the season-opening Daytona 500. He was running in the top 10 a week later at Fontana, California, but a mechanical issue forced a green-flag pit stop and resulted in a 25th-place finish.
A last-lap crash at Daytona caused Larson to finish 18th after he began second. Mechanical issues just 13 laps into Fontana led to a 29th-place finish.
Then came Sunday in Las Vegas.
Byron had the strongest car most of the day, and he led 176 of the 271 laps. Larson, however, appeared well on his way to victory before a late caution.
Both Hendrick drivers headed to pit road. Byron squeezed by Larson on the exit, setting up an overtime restart that placed him in position to win and lead a parade of Hendrick drivers.
“The start of the year is really, really tough on our crew guys, on the road and the shop guys,” said Rudy Fugle, Byron’s crew chief. “They are working their tails off. These West Coast races and all the stuff that we’re doing, we got cars late again this year, and they’re tired. They need a morale boost, and one-two-three will boost the morale in the shop, so that’s going to be huge.” MARK ANDERSON, LAS VEGAS, MDT/AP