Race Weekend Central

Hendrick Looking for Answers After Lackluster Saturday Showing at NHMS

LOUDON, N.H. – Nine of Hendrick Motorsports’ 297 NASCAR Cup Series wins have come at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but it’s been 11 years since HMS last won at The Magic Mile.

Kasey Kahne was the driver to get it done for HMS in 2012, and it’s been a drought ever since.

The HMS woes at New Hampshire continued in Saturday’s (July 15) practice and qualifying sessions for the Crayon 301. Kyle Larson led the way with the 14th-fastest single-lap speed in practice, while William Byron (25th), Chase Elliott (28th) and Alex Bowman (31st) were well down the running order.

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Byron turned it around in qualifying by making the second round, and he will start seventh. Larson (15th), Elliott (18th) and Bowman (25th) made substantial improvements, but the consensus among all four drivers was that HMS has a lot of work to do before Monday’s (July 17) race.

“Practice and qualifying didn’t go as well as we’d like, but hopefully we can get our car driving a little bit better before the race,” Larson said.

Did Larson know what he was missing in his No. 5 car on Saturday?

“Well, I don’t know. I mean, I feel really bad out there, but then like, I look at lap times comparable to good cars on the longer run. So, everybody must feel like s—, honestly.

“I don’t know, just got to study a little bit before I overreact on comments to my crew chief on where I need help and then maybe we can make the smartest decisions for the race.”

Byron nicely turned a poor practice around with a solid qualifying effort, but practice was a near-disaster for the No. 24 team.

“We just got to keep up our effort and performance, and today was a big scare because we had the steering issues and then figured it out there at the end with the steering column in a bind,” Byron said. “It was really fortunate to figure that out and get it all sorted out.”

While satisfied with a seventh-place start, Byron admitted that the team has work to do based on its performance in practice.

“I don’t know [if we can contend] yet,” Byron said. “I mean, well see, I think we’re a good way off there on pace in practice, but who’s to say that the race pace won’t be different, and the track will change. So definitely, just feel like we’re kind of down on overall grip, but hopefully that stuff comes to us, and we can be in a good spot going forward.”

For Bowman, he remained optimistic despite the struggles in practice and qualifying.

“I do feel like we have potential in our racecar,” Bowman said. “We just kind of missed the balance there for qualifying. So, as bad as we were in practice, I know we can make it a lot better and be alright [Sunday] or Monday.”

However, Bowman and the No. 48 team made it four laps before they were swept up in a crash at New Hampshire last year. With just a handful of laps in the Next Gen car at this track last year, Bowman felt that the team was almost starting from scratch this time around.

“I feel like I didn’t make any laps last year, so yeah, for sure [we’re behind],” Bowman said. “I think that definitely hurts us. And qualifying bad, just surrounding yourself with people that you don’t necessarily want to be surrounded with at the start kind of caused what happened last year. We’re a little better than that this year, I feel like. So, hopefully we’ll have a better race day.”

Elliott, who is longest-tenured driver at HMS, didn’t seem surprised by the results.

“No, [New Hampshire] has not been a good track for me … we ran good up here last year, and I wasn’t really sure why to be honest.

“We had a good test here a month and a half or a couple months ago, whatever it was. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be helping us much for today.”

While there was a mix of optimism and dejection in the HMS camp on Saturday, Elliott reassured that everyone will be giving their all to be better on Monday.

“The face you bring in here isn’t necessarily a reflection of how hard we’re going to work to try and be better,” Elliott said. “So, whether you’re smiling, not smiling, mad, not mad, I think we’re all going to go work as hard as we can tonight and get ready for the race to make the most of it. So, you know, that’s what I’m going to do and that’s all I can do at this point.

“… Very rarely in my career have I ever really struggled through practice and qualifying and just miraculously hit it. I mean, it’s happened, but it’s pretty few and far between. So, we’ll just make the most of it; you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.”

The Crayon 301 will be run on Monday at 12 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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