Race Weekend Central

Hendrick Motorsports Celebrates 40th Anniversary With Historic 1-2-3 Finish

MARTINSVILLE, V.A.- All weekend long, the main focus of Sunday’s (April 7) NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway seemed to be on Hendrick Motorsports’ (HMS) 40th anniversary celebration.

Memories of Hendrick’s team-saving first win with Geoff Bodine at Martinsville in 1984 were mentioned continuously, reflecting on a moment that sparked one of the greatest organizations in NASCAR history.

The team’s four cars were adorned with special ruby red paint schemes. Hendrick memorabilia could be found scattered all over the facility, with all 28 wins for the team depicted in the turn four pedestrian tunnel. Over one thousand HMS employees and family members were stationed in turn two.

Those attendees were treated to a historic result and a feel-good burnout on Sunday afternoon.

After 415 laps, the story remained with Hendrick – and for good reason. The organization not only capped off its weekend in victory lane, but did so with a 1-2-3 finish for the team, the first time any organization has done so at Martinsville. William Byron survived an overtime restart for the win, with teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott rounding out the top three. 

See also
William Byron Victorious in Overtime, Wins in Martinsville

The weekend dominance didn’t just cover the late stages of Sunday’s race. Larson set the fast time in qualifying with a blistering lap on Saturday, just edging out Bubba Wallace for the pole. 

He went on to lead every lap of stage one, picking up the stage win before giving up the lead on pit road. The four Hendrick teammates remained in the top four throughout stage two, before Elliott powered around the outside of Denny Hamlin to take his turn at the front in the final stage. 

Elliott led until Hamlin retook the lead on lap 258, which set up a Toyota vs. Hendrick showdown leading into the final set of pit stops under green. The Georgian ran second, with Larson fourth and Byron fifth. Wallace split the trio in third.

Crew chief Rudy Fugle elected to short pit the No. 24 under green in an attempt to jump the cars ahead – a strategy that paid off handsomely. A trio of fast pit stops and strong out laps lifted the to the top three spots following the green flag stops, with Byron out front while Elliott and Larson trailed behind. 

The three ran that way throughout the final run of the race and it looked as though they had the 1-2-3 finish locked up. There was a moment of uncertainty when the caution flag flew with three laps to go for John Hunter Nemecheck, pushing the race to overtime, but in the end the trio held their ground to deliver the result.

While they each wanted to win, the group raced fairly on the restart. Byron survived a bump from Elliott for the win, while Larson snagged second away from the 2020 champ on the final lap.

At the end of a memorable weekend, the story book officially had its ending. Hendrick Motorsports celebrated its 40th anniversary in victory lane at the site where it all began. Team owner Rick Hendrick wasn’t present, but called in to discuss the victory with FOX Sports afterward.

“(I’m) just so proud of everyone at Hendrick Motorsports,” Byron said. “Grew up a big Hendrick fan. To be here for the 40th anniversary, all that goes into just this organization, all the people, it’s all about the people. Just want to thank Mr. Hendrick and Linda and everyone involved.”

For Larson, second was still a solid result on a day when the focus was more on the company than the individual drivers. He was ultimately happy to have contributed to the cause. 

“Yeah, it was a huge day for Hendrick Motorsports,” Larson said. “Just really, really happy for Hendrick family and everybody who’s been involved in this company from the beginning. You know there was 1,500 people off turn two from Hendrick Motorsports and their families today so I knew us four guys were going to have a shot at a good run, I didn’t know that we would run one, two, three, so that’s just really special.”

Elliott settled for third of the bunch, but was still content, knowing he had abused his tires on the final run before the last restart. He echoed Larson’s sentiments in mention his joy to play a part in a special moment for the team. 

“Most of the restarts went really well,” Elliott said. “That last one, I had just hurt the rear tires on that run before, I was really worried about getting going and having enough grip to make it work. Nonetheless, happy for William, happy for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, really special to have all of our folks here, or a lot of them and their families. I hate Rick couldn’t be here today and Linda, but certainly happy and proud to be a part of their organization. 

Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Gordon, one of the company’s biggest stars, shared in the emotions of the day. He spent the entirety of his Cup Series career with the organization, earning four titles and nine wins at Martinsville, including a final Championship-4-clinching triumph in 2015.

“It’s obviously pretty surreal,” Gordon said of the day. “I felt like I was in the car there about 50, 60 laps to go because it reminded me of when you’re leading and you feel like you’re going to do something really, really special. You start thinking about the moment, what it means. You start getting choked up a little bit. I was like, ‘Stop, stop, stop, can’t think that, we got a long way to go here.’

“Usually it’s not that easy, and it wasn’t.”

Describing the sensation and importance of such a special day proved difficult afterward.

“I don’t even know where to begin honestly,” Gordon said. “There’s so many things that are special. (I) immediately looked up on the hill and saw all those ruby red shirts just going nuts. Now they’re out there waiting to have a picture with our whole organization.

“You just cannot plan it any better, script it any better.”

About the author

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

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