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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Rough year for Hendrick Motorsports

Posted by Eric Fisher On July 27

It wasn’t too long ago that Hendrick Motorsports was the dominant organization in NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson was winning championships, Jeff Gordon was challenging Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the most popular driver in NASCAR. For good measure, Kasey Kahne was usually in Chase contention.

Times have changed. With six races remaining until NASCAR’s playoffs, none of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers has a postseason berth sewed up.

The names have changed since Hendrick’s heyday. Johnson is still in the fold, but the rest of the lineup consists of rising star Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and rookie William Byron.

None of the Hendrick drivers has a win this year, which is something they would like to change Sunday (2:30 p.m.) at the Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway. A trip to Victory Lane would virtually assure each Hendrick driver of a playoff berth.

It’s possible to qualify for the Chase without winning a race. Drivers in the top 30 with wins automatically qualify for the playoffs. If there aren’t 16 winners, which will be the case this year due to Kevin Harvick (6), Kyle Busch (5) and Martin Truex Jr. (4) dominating the NASCAR circuit, the top drivers in points round out the playoff field until it reaches 16.

Entering Sunday’s race at Pocono, Hendrick drivers Johnson, Elliott and Bowman occupy the final three berths in the playoff field. Byron is five spots outside of a playoff berth.

Johnson has what appears to be a comfortable 97-point cushion. But Johnson knows that no lead is safe. A “did not finish” (DNF) or two could put Johnson on the playoff bubble. Elliott, with a 95-point cushion, is in similar position to Johnson. Bowman is in the final playoff position, 28 points ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and 29 ahead of Paul Menard.

Byron, the fourth member of Hendrick Motorsports, is 95 points behind Bowman. Like Ryan Newman (74 points behind Bowman), Daniel Suarez (94 behind) and Jamie McMurray (98 behind), Byron probably needs a win in one of the six remaining races to qualify for the playoffs. It’s unlikely any of these drivers will qualify via points. Chris Buescher, one spot behind Murray, qualified for the playoffs last year with a rain-shortened victory at Pocono and, obviously, would like to do it again.

If Stenhouse, Menard or any of the drivers in the preceding paragraph – and you can throw AJ Allmendinger (25th place) and Kahne (26th) into the mix – win at Pocono or one of the five following races, it reduces the number of playoff berths available for drivers trying to qualify through points.

The possibility that a driver might win for the first times this season highlights how precarious the situation is for the Hendrik drivers.

The idea of a NASCAR playoff without Johnson is almost inconceivable. But Johnson only has two Top 5 finishes this season. By contrast, Elliott has five Top 5 finishes.

It’s been an uncharacteristically poor year for Hendrick Motorsports. But the year could get worse if they don’t hang on to the final three playoff berths.

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