CONCORD, N.C. -- With their backs against the wall in the final race of the Round of 16, the Hendrick Motorsports fleet of Chevrolets rallied together to perform under pressure at Bristol Motor Speedway and gain enough points to advance all four drivers to the Round of 12 in this year’s NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
While Kyle Larson clinched a spot in the Round of 12 by securing enough points at Richmond Raceway the weekend before, his playoff win at Bristol will give the No. 5 team an extra boost of confidence and more playoff points as they gear up to take on the next three tracks. Chase Elliott, who finished 25th after a late-race flat tire, punched his ticket into the second round of the playoffs at the start of stage three after collecting enough points throughout the 500-lap race to advance.
William Byron and Alex Bowman drove their way into the next round of the playoffs after finishing third and fifth at Bristol Motor Speedway, respectively. Byron sat 18 points behind the final transfer position entering the race while Bowman was tied for the final spot in the Round of 12, sitting 13th. Both drivers needed to run well at Bristol to advance and the next round, and the path for both drivers was nowhere near an easy feat.
“I was honestly just trying to go as hard as I could,” Byron said. “I was just trying to make as much speed as I could. I felt like that was what our car had, and we were just trying to hold off the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) and just drive it as hard as I could. It was a pretty awesome moment that we could pull through being 18 points out, and (to) come into this race and advance is pretty amazing.”
After Byron’s third-place finish at Bristol, the 23-year-old driver has rallied to eighth in the playoff standings with 3,014 points. Bowman, who also had to race his way into the next round, tallied enough points in his fifth-place finish at Bristol to advance on and currently stand in seventh in the standings.
“I’m just appreciative to make it through this round,” Bowman said. “It’s Ally’s first time in the playoffs and we want to get them as far as we can and try to go chase a championship. There are some good tracks coming up for us this round and I’ve just got to go do my job, not make any more mistakes and have a good rest of the playoffs.”
This marks the first time since 2014 that Hendrick Motorsports has had four drivers in the Round of 12. Larson’s win in the elimination race at Bristol also adds to the organization’s history books, marking 2021 as the 17th season that Hendrick Motorsports has won a playoff race.
To kick off the Round of 12, the teammates will take on Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 26, followed by Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 3 and the Charlotte Roval on Oct. 10. Now that all four teams are safely locked into the next round, they're resetting and looking to carry the momentum to these next three tracks.
“I think we’re going to some really good tracks. We won on a 1.5-mile earlier this year,” Byron said. “The (Charlotte) Roval, we’ve been really fast there and have had a number of poles on road courses, so I feel like we just had to get through this (first) round. We had a really unfortunate start to it and we made up for it tonight.”