Hendrick Motorsport is in an unenviable position at Kansas Speedway when it comes to its drivers advancing into the next round of the playoffs.
All three of its title contenders are below the cutline going into the Hollywood Casino 400 (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. EDT, NBC). Alex Bowman is below the cutline by 18 points. Chase Elliott, who won this race last year, is 22 points back. William Byron is last on the grid with a 27-point deficit.
“We can’t approach it any differently than we have every week leading up to this,” said Bowman. “I feel like when you try to step your game up or change what you’re doing, you end up making mistakes and not executing well. We’re kind of business as usual. Obviously, our 1.5-mile program is our strongest program. We were really strong here in the spring, and I feel like we’ve only gotten stronger since then. We have a great race car here, and we just have to go execute.”
Bowman led 63 laps in the spring Kansas race and finished second. In control late, Bowman was passed by Brad Keselowski with 11 laps to go and missed out on what would have been his first career win in the series.
He has finishes of third (Dover) and 37th (Talladega) in this round.
“Obviously, it’s not an optimal point situation,” Bowman continued. “But all we can do is all we can do. We’re pretty much in a must-win situation. That’s tough, but if we don’t make it, the sun is still going to come up on Monday. If we have a good day and still don’t make it, we were a Talladega away from making it. That’s just part of the sport.”
A win at Charlotte propelled Elliott into the Round of 12. But he’s been fighting from behind after a mechanical issue in Dover resulted in a DNF (38th). Although he was involved in an accident last weekend at Talladega, Elliott’s team repaired the car and salvaged an eighth-place finish.
“We’re just trying to get it as close as we can,” said Elliott, who finished fourth at Kansas in the spring. “There are going to be a handful of guys that will have their cars driving the way that they should. Hopefully, we’re in that group and can give ourselves a shot. We have to try to be the first guys off pit road or be the guy with the best restart at the end of the race because there are going to be a few guys that will have the car driving well enough to win.”
Byron, who was 20th in the spring race, is also looking at his situation as must-win. In the first two races of this round, Byron finished 13th at Dover and 33rd at Talladega.
“I think we can look at the stages and try to get a bunch of points in those,” said Byron. “Ultimately, we’re going to have to win, and that’s our goal.”
Of his teammates, Byron said it’s every man for himself since they are all in the same boat.
“We always work really well together when it comes to notes, what we’re learning from each practice and stuff like that,” he said. “I think we’ll have that ability still. But when the race starts, it’s going to be all about going forward and trying to win for each one of our teams.”