In 2019, Joe Gibbs was all but assured the NASCAR Cup Series championship when three of his four drivers earned spots in the Championship 4. Gibbs did end up the championship-winning car owner when Kyle Busch won the season finale en route to his second series title.
As this year’s postseason gets set to begin at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the chatter now centers around Hendrick Motorsports. With the organization undoubtedly the class of the Cup Series garage, the question is whether all four Hendrick drivers will be in the title race at Phoenix.
“It’s definitely not a guarantee,” William Byron said. “I feel like it’s possible, though.”
Byron and the No. 24 team are the lowest-seeded Hendrick entry at eighth on the grid with 2,014 points. Byron earned his playoff spot by winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway and finished the regular season fifth in the overall points.
“I feel like our team, we’re doing the right things,” said Byron. “Over the course of the season, it’s really easy for guys to go their own way, and crew chiefs to kind of go out on their own path and start finding setups that they think work better than another guys. By the end of the year, you look back at the notes, and you’re like, man, it’s way different on paper than this other race car or team, and that’s not been the case.
“We’ve had periods of the season where one of us struggled, or two of us struggled, but honestly, we’re kind of on that same path we started the year on. We’re all sharing notes; we’re all working really well together. So, the possibility of all four of us making it to the Championship 4 is definitely there.”
Byron said his team is a top-eight team. Success for him in the playoffs would be a few wins and advancing to the title race.
Seeded sixth is Alex Bowman, who scored three early wins and has 2,015 points, and didn’t hesitate to say he also thinks an all-Hendrick final four is possible.
“I think it takes a lot of things going just your way to be able to pull that off,” Bowman admitted. “It’s hard to have four cars to have any issues for nine weeks to get to that point. But at the same time, I think the Hendrick organization is super strong right now; everybody from top to bottom in that shop is killing it and working extremely hard.
“So, I think we have a great shot to be able to do, and I think we’re definitely going to be racing our teammates for a championship this year.”
Gibbs in ’19 is the closest an organization has come to sweeping the final four spots. In the elimination era of the playoffs (2014-present), a team owner has put multiple cars in the championship race just three times.
Chase Elliott begins his title defense from the fifth seed with two wins and 2,021 points. Elliott said he doesn’t see why he and his three teammates couldn’t all make the Championship 4.
“I think it’d be great,” Elliott said. “Mr. Hendrick deserves to win, and that would guarantee him a championship, so I’m for it.”
Elliott beat two Team Penske drivers in Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin to win the title last year. He is ready to try and do it again and said he doesn’t feel much different going into the playoffs as the champion.
“I feel like I’m in a similar place,” Elliott said. “I feel like I’m in a good place. I’m ready to get going. I’m looking forward to these next 10 weeks — it’s my favorite time of year. It’s getting exciting for us on the NASCAR front (and) all kinds of sports on TV.
“It’s a fun time of the year to be an American. So, I’m proud of that and looking forward to the opportunity. I feel good, and we’re as ready as we’re ever going to be. Looking forward to Darlington.”
Then there’s Kyle Larson, who won the regular-season championship and is the odds-on favorite for the crown. Larson won five races and enters as the No. 1 seed with 2,052 points.
“You see how tough this series is,” Larson said. “Ten weeks is a long time. Four weeks is a long time, so 10 is a long stretch here, and a lot of stuff can happen. Each year I feel like there’s adversity that you have to overcome at some point.
“There are teams that come and go still. I’m sure there are teams out there that haven’t peaked yet, and who knows if we’ve peaked already. I don’t really know. It’s hard to predict and expect anything in this series. Yeah, we have a great opportunity, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to go do it.”