Hendrick Motorsports can now put total effort behind Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott

The remaining eight drivers in the NASCAR Playoffs all come from just three organizations. Three of those competitors drive for Joe Gibbs Racing, three for Team Penske, and two for Hendrick Motorsports.

While it might seem as if JGR and Penske have an advantage due to the fact that each has one more representative in contention for the NASCAR Cup Series championship than does Hendrick, the results of Sunday’s Autotrader Echo Park Automotive 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway may actually paint a different picture.

Kyle Larson’s victory in Fort Worth assures that the No. 5 HMS Chevrolet will be among the Championship 4 when the series rolls into Phoenix Raceway for its finale in November. So with that assurance, the team that, throughout its history, has already amassed a staggering total of 13 championships at the sport’s highest level, can focus all of its energy on making sure their other remaining car, the No. 9 of defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, also makes it into that final race with a chance to earn a title.

Obviously, all three of these organizations are very deep in terms of talent, ability, and resources so it is not as if any one of these crews would have to rely on robbing manpower from teammates. But there are still ways that help can come from within the organization.

All three of Team Penske’s drivers and teams remain afloat in the NASCAR championship waters which is a remarkable feat in and of itself. And ideally, the company headed by one of the most successful men to have ever been involved in racing would want to take up the remaining three spots in the Championship 4. However, the likelihood of that happening is not high considering that two of its drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, currently sit below the cutline while Ryan Blaney resides above that line.

Going into the next two weeks, the three Penske crews will probably work together as much as possible but with the realization that their efforts to help teammates could possibly cost them their own shot at a championship. Whether anyone says so or not, a certain degree of selfishness has to come into play whether it be in a secret setup trick being withheld during a team meeting or a break not given on the track.

Joe Gibbs Racing finds itself in a bit of a different situation as two of its stars, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, are currently within the top-4 of the NASCAR Playoffs standings while teammate Martin Truex Jr. finds himself seventh of the remaining eight. Again, the ideal situation would be for JGR to claim those final three spots. But even with two of their drivers ranked in the top-four, that would still be a challenge.

So just like Penske, there would almost certainly have to be at least a small element of selfish ambition to creep into the organization owned by the only man to have a place in both the National Football League and NASCAR Halls of Fame.

Hendrick Motorsports does not have to worry about any of that for now.

As stated before, only one of their cars is not locked into the Championship 4. There is no reason over these next two weeks for one of their other teams to withhold anything from the No. 9 crew. And while it is certainly not as if driver Chase Elliott or crew chief Alan Gustafson necessarily need the help as they have already proven they can win a title, a little additional brain power or a break given on the track never hurts.

Getting the No. 9 of Chase Elliott into the Championship 4 can be the sole focus of HMS

With the HMS teams of Alex Bowman and William Byron having already been eliminated from contention and that of Larson locked in, the entire organization can pull in the same direction when the Cup Series makes its way to the Kansas Speedway next weekend and the Martinsville Speedway after that.

A little setup tip that one of the other crew chiefs might have found in a previous visit to one of those tracks but not previously shared can now be revealed. A team discussion of the strategy that will best play in the favor of the No. 9 car can be had leading into those races. And perhaps most importantly, a push at the right time on a restart, not fighting for a position coming to a stage break, or allowing Elliott to get back into line before being freight trained by a pack of cars could go a long toward getting the defending champ back to Phoenix with a title shot.

Unlike its chief rivals, Hendrick Motorsports has the advantage of being able to place its total focus on one driver and team over the next two weeks. Then, after they get both of their remaining cars in the Championship 4, the selfish ambition to win a championship for just one of those drivers and crews can set in.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association

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