April 20, 2024

Upon Further Review, 2024 Daytona 500 Was Almost Perfect for Hendrick Motorsports


  • The No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro of William Byron—won the rain-rescheduled 66th annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
  • It was the 302nd official victory for Hendrick Motorsports since its breakthrough victory with Geoffrey Bodine in the spring of 1984 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
  • The No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro of Alex Bowman—finished second.

Monday night presented almost the perfect way for Rick Hendrick to kick off his season-long 40th anniversary celebration as a NASCAR team owner.

“Almost,” but in this case “almost” is close enough.

One of his team cars—the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro of William Byron—won the rain-rescheduled 66th annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. It was the 302nd official victory for Hendrick Motorsports since its breakthrough victory with Geoffrey Bodine in the spring of 1984 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Another of Hendrick’s team cars—the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro of Alex Bowman—finished second. It seemed a clear-cut call at the time, but officials wisely reviewed a video of the last lap caution to make sure they had it right.

They did, and there was no public debate.

nascar cup series daytona 500

Jared C. Tilton//Getty Images

Rick Hendrick, center, knows the way to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway.

Byron led only the last four laps in giving HMS its ninth Daytona 500 victory, its first since Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014. The victory tied Petty Enterprises for the most-ever in the sport’s most important event. PE won its nine with three drivers: Richard Petty (7) and Lee Petty and Pete Hamilton (1 each). Hendrick’s nine have come from six drivers: Jeff Gordon (3), Jimmie Johnson (2), and Earnhardt Jr., Byron, Bodine, and Darrell Waltrip (1 each).

“I’m telling you, you couldn’t write the script any better, Hendrick said during the post-race festivities. “When I thought about coming down here the first time in 1984, I didn’t think I should be here. I felt so out of place. (Then) we win this one on the 40th-year to the day (of our first 500), and to tie a record. And with 24 and 48 finishing like they did. That’s just awesome.’”

“Hendrick’s other two drivers—Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson—certainly weren’t terrible.”

Hendrick’s other two drivers certainly weren’t terrible, but weren’t always in the right place at the right times. Chase Elliott finished a pedestrian 14th, but led 13 laps and beat teammate Kyle Larson at the end of Stage 1. Larson was all over the scoring pylon throughout the late afternoon/early evening race, going up and down and leading seven laps in finishing 11th.

He was poised for perhaps a top-5 finish before the 23-car backstretch accident at lap 197 dramatically changed the running order. It appeared Bowman bumped Byron amidst traffic, and Byron plowed into Brad Keselowski. That started the chain-reaction “big one” that severely damaged or eliminated (among others) Keselowski, pole-winner Joey Logano, reigning Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney, three-time 500 winner Denny Hamlin, former series champion Martin Truex Jr., Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, and defending race champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Then, on the last lap, a frontstretch accident kept Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric from challenging Byron for the victory. The caution immediately came out, but it was after Byron and Bowman had taken the white flag 1-2, locking in their final finish positions as the race officially ended under caution.

Byron’s victory was his first in NASCAR’s annual “official” opener. He won a series-high six times last year, but still finished 3rd in final points based on his 4th-place in the championship race at Phoenix to close the season. He now has 11 Cup Series victories and, at just 26, figures to keep piling them up throughout this decade.

He wasn’t at all dominant—13 other drivers led more than he did—but the strategy he and crew chief Rudy Fuge planned out worked perfectly. “Obviously, we laid back and tried to save fuel for most of the race,” Byron said. “We’d get up there at the end of the stages and make some moves. I can’t believe it; I’m just a kid from racing on computers (to) winning the Daytona 500. This is so cool.”

Bowman, as expected, said all the right things. “It was a great day for Chevrolet and for Hendrick Motorsports, but I wish it could have been the 48 (his number) in victory lane,” he told a TV commentator. “I thought (Byron) had me at the end by a little. I had a good run going, but I needed a couple more 100 feet (to reach the checkered first). I did all I could do.”

Lettermark

Unemployed after three years as an Army officer and Vietnam vet, Al Pearce shamelessly lied his way onto a small newspaper’s sports staff in Virginia in 1969. He inherited motorsports, a strange and unfamiliar beat which quickly became an obsession. 

In 53 years – 48 ongoing with Autoweek – there have been thousands of NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA, and APBA assignments on weekend tracks and major venues like Daytona Beach, Indianapolis, LeMans, and Watkins Glen. The job – and accompanying benefits – has taken him to all 50 states and more than a dozen countries.  

He’s been fortunate enough to attract interest from several publishers, thus his 13 motorsports-related books. He can change a tire on his Hyundai, but that’s about it.



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