It’s Go-Time For Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman To Keep NASCAR Cup Championship Hopes Alive
Story By: HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS – MARTINSVILLE, VA – This Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway marks the final race of the Round of 8 in the NASCAR playoffs.
Chase Elliott currently sits sixth in the playoff standings, 25 points below the cutline. He leads playoff drivers with the most points earned (307) and stage points (93) in the eight playoff races. He has also run the most laps in the top five (1,374) and in the top 10 (2,006) of all drivers.
In the eight playoff races, the driver of the No. 9 has led laps in seven of those races and holds the second-most laps led (328).
NAPA AUTO PARTS: Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE will don the blue, white and yellow NAPA AUTO PARTS paint scheme on Sunday at Martinsville. The Atlanta-based company is serving as majority sponsor for Elliott and the No. 9 team for a total of 26 NASCAR Cup Series races this season. In February, it was announced that NAPA AUTO PARTS and Hendrick Motorsports will continue their partnership for another two seasons through 2022.
2020 SEASON: With only two races remaining in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, Elliott has picked up career bests in laps led (858), top-five finishes (13) and stage wins (nine). His three wins are tied for his most and his 20 top-10s are Elliott’s second-most at the 34-race mark.
ELLIOTT AT THE PAPERCLIP: Chase Elliott is set to make his 11th NASCAR Cup Series start at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday. The driver of the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE made his Cup debut at the track for Hendrick Motorsports on March 29, 2015, and has since led a total of 193 laps there. He has finished inside the top 10 in four of his last five visits to the track.
SHORT-TRACK STATS: On Sunday, Elliott will make his 31st short-track start in the Cup Series. In those races, he has garnered seven top-five finishes, 14 top-10s and led a total of 539 laps. Elliott currently has three consecutive top-10 finishes. Since the start of 2018, Elliott has collected 10 top-10s at short tracks, tied with Joey Logano for the fifth-most during that span.
GUSTAFSON’S MARTINSVILLE HISTORY: No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson is set to call his 32nd Martinsville Speedway race from atop the pit box on Sunday. In his previous 31 Cup Series starts at the track, he has two wins, 13 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s. Both wins at the 0.526-mile oval came with NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon (2013 and 2015). The 2015 victory secured Gordon’s position in the Championship 4 for the season finale.
CUT TO IT: Elliott recently joined former NFL player Steve Smith on his podcast “Cut To It” to talk about his racing career, growing up in Dawsonville, Georgia, and much more.
TOP FIVE IN TEXAS: After a 72-hour red flag for weather, Alex Bowman was finally able to get on track Wednesday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway. The Acronis team led 43 laps during the 334-lap event and brought home stage points in Stage 2 after finishing third. Through a series of long green-flag runs, Bowman was scored fifth after a round of scheduled pit stops and was able to maintain that position through the conclusion of the 500-mile event. The team is now scored in fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings going into this weekend’s race in Martinsville.
CAREER YEAR: The 2020 season is turning out to be a career year for Bowman and the No. 88 team. The 27-year-old driver has one win, six top-five results, 14 top-10s and has led 439 laps in 34 events. Bowman has more top-10s and has led more laps this season than before. He secured a spot in the Round of 8 for the first time in his six-year Cup Series career. Bowman has finished inside the top 10 in eight of the last 10 races this season, a career best.
2020 NUMBERS: The No. 88 team has earned 295 points so far in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, which ranks second among drivers. The team has the best average finish (8.3) and the sixth-best average running position (9.6) in the playoffs. Bowman has run 1,768 laps inside the top 10 and owns six top-10 finishes in the playoffs, which are tied for first. He has the second-most top-five finishes in the playoffs with three, has the most top-10 finishes (eight) in the last 10 races and is tied for the longest active top-10 streak (three).
MARTINSVILLE STATS: Bowman has nine previous Martinsville Speedway starts in the NASCAR Cup Series. The Tucson, Arizona, native’s best finish came earlier this season when he crossed the line sixth after 500 laps. During the June event, Bowman captured stage points after finishing fourth in Stage 2 of the race. The driver has two top-10 finishes at Martinsville and has completed 98.1% of the total laps. Bowman will roll of third on Sunday, which is his best starting position in nine events at Martinsville.
IVES IN VIRGINIA: Crew chief Greg Ives will call the shots for the 12th time for the No. 88 team at Martinsville on Sunday. The Bark River, Michigan, native has one top-five finish and four top-10s at the short track with a best finish of fourth coming in 2015 with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ives was a race engineer for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team from 2006-2012 when he was part of six wins, three pole awards and 12 top-10 finishes at Martinsville.
MR. PEANUT GOES RACING: On Monday, Hendrick Motorsports announced the addition of Planters on the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Martinsville this weekend. Mr. Peanut will adorn the hood of Bowman’s ride for the final race in the Round of 8 at the .526-mile venue. Founded in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1906, Planters offers multiple flavors of various types of nuts. The company recently introduced a user friendly “Pop & Pour” container that allows for easy snacking on the go.
PIT ROAD SPEED: The No. 88 pit crew ranks seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series with an average four-tire stop time of 14.1 seconds after eight playoff events. The team includes fueler Jacob Conley, tire carrier Rowdy Harrell, jackman Dustin Lineback and tire changers Scott Brzozowski and Devin DelRicco.
CLOSE TO HOME: No. 88 engine tuner Stephen Raynor calls Martinsville Speedway his home track. The 33-year-old crew member grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which is approximately 50 miles from the Virginia venue. He has been with the Hendrick Motorsports engine department for eight years.
GOOD DISCOUNTS: During the month of October, No. 88 team sponsor ChevyGoods.com is providing discounts on various accessories on its website. Customers can receive 10% below MSRP on Adam’s Polishes and NOCO accessories purchased online with code CHEVYGOODS. With code TRUCKHERO, customers can receive 20% below MSRP on Truck Hero accessories purchased online.
MARTINSVILLE MASTER: Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has seen plenty of success over the course of his 37 starts at Martinsville Speedway. The driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE has nine wins at the short track, ranking behind only Dover International Speedway where he has 11 victories. He has an average finish of 9.3 and 25 top-10 finishes. Johnson has led 2,932 laps around the paperclip-shaped Virginia track, second only to his 25 top-10s and 3,110 laps led at Dover. Johnson led 70 laps at Martinsville in June en route to a 10th-place finish.
10,000 MORE REASONS: As Johnson concludes his final full-time NASCAR season, Ally revealed a paint scheme for the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet featuring the signatures of 10,000 fans, Ally employees, Hendrick Motorsports teammates and drivers. There are also signatures on the No. 48 Ally team pit wall banner. Fans may look for signatures on www.SignForJimmie.com until Nov. 9.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Two of Johnson’s nine Martinsville victories have come from a starting position outside the top 10. He came from the 18th spot to earn his first win at the track in 2004 and from 20th to victory lane in 2007. This weekend, he will start 27th.
MEMORABLE LAST WIN: Johnson’s most recent win at Martinsville was Oct. 30, 2016 which locked him into the championship round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. He led 92 laps that day and took home his ninth grandfather clock trophy which set the stage for Johnson to earn his record-tying seventh championship title.
SHORT-TRACK WINNER: Of all active Cup Series drivers, Johnson has the second-most career wins on short tracks with 14. The 45-year-old driver has earned multiple victories on all three active short tracks on the Cup circuit: Martinsville (nine), Richmond (three) and Bristol (two).
FALL STANDOUT: Johnson has a knack for the fall race at Martinsville as he has won six of his nine trophies during the second half of the season. Considering it was the last venue mentor and former teammate Jeff Gordon won his final Cup Series race, it would be fitting for Johnson to win this weekend in his final start. Gordon’s win was in 2015 on the same day – Nov. 1.
JOHNSON KIDS GOT GAME: In case you missed the 2020 “Top-Rated by Kids Toy Awards Show,” the Johnson girls, Genevieve and Lydia, proved to be just as competitive as their seven-time Cup Series champion dad.
JJ’S OWN VICTORY LANE: Last Sunday, before Johnson’s father Gary gave the command to start engines at Texas Motor Speedway, he was honored in a way extremely fitting for a champion. Track president Eddie Gossage renamed one of the biggest spectacles in racing – and the victory lane that features six-shooters and fire – the “Jimmie Johnson Winner’s Circle.”
NEW CREW CHIEF, WHO DIS: Hendrick Motorsports on Monday named Rudy Fugle as the crew chief for William Byron and the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. As one of the most successful crew chiefs at the NASCAR national series level, Fugle has won two driver championships and five owner titles in the NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series. He has also recorded 28 truck victories, which tie him for the second-most in series history. Of those 28 wins, seven came with Fugle and then-rookie Byron during 2016. That season, the pair led 21% of all possible laps and earned the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series owner championship. Fugle will replace current No. 24 crew chief Chad Knaus, who was recently named Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition effective at the completion of the 2020 racing season.
TEXAS-SIZED DELAY: Starting 11th for Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, Byron and the rest of the field saw the red flag displayed after only 52 laps due to rain. With weather looming in the area, the race finally resumed Wednesday afternoon and Byron marched his way to the sixth position by the end of Stage 1. He fought major handling woes with the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE during the middle segment of the event, but Byron utilized the final stage to rally his way to a 13th-place finish at the 1.5-mile oval.
STRAIGHT 10s: A model of consistency lately, Byron heads to Martinsville with two consecutive top-10 finishes at the paperclip-shaped track – the second longest streak on a track for Byron – behind Pocono Raceway and Kansas Speedway (three each). He also has two top-10 finishes during the four short-track races in the 2020 season, tying him for fifth behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who all have three. In fact, in the last 10 races of the 2020 season, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native has six top-10 finishes, tying him for third, just two behind other Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman (8).
MARTINSVILLE MINUTES: Despite his young age, Byron’s time at Martinsville goes back years since attending his first Cup Series race at the paperclip-shaped track in 2006 as a fan. Since then, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native has moved through the NASCAR ranks and is now poised to make his eighth overall start at the .526-mile track, his sixth in the Cup Series. Of those five Cup Series starts at the short track, Byron has a best starting position of 11th for both fall races in 2018 and 2019 and he raced to a runner-up finish in the fall 2019. In fact, that race is the best race statistically of Byron’s Cup career, holding an average running position of 4.5 – the third-best of all drivers in the race. He also earned 45 points during the event – the third-most earned that race. Byron also has two other Martinsville starts, both coming in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2016, where he qualified seventh for both events and raced to a third-place finish in the spring and an eighth-place finish in the fall.
KNAUS’ KNACK FOR MARTINSVILLE: Calling the shots on top of the pit box for the 41st time at Martinsville Speedway, crew chief Chad Knaus is ready to add another grandfather clock to his collection after this Sunday’s race at the Martinsville. Knaus has nine wins already, the second-highest amount at one track in his career (11 wins at Dover). His most recent win at the Virginia short track came in fall 2016 with Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team. However, he came close to another win in the 2019 fall race, collecting a runner-up finish with Byron and the No. 24.
FINAL ONE FOR LIBERTY U: For this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway, Liberty University will adorn Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for the final time during the 2020 Cup Series season this Sunday. Liberty University is in its sixth season of sponsoring the 22-year-old driver dating back to his time in the late model ranks. Liberty has been Training Champions for Christ since it was founded in 1971. Located in the mountains of Central Virginia, Liberty is a liberal arts institution with 17 colleges and schools that offers more than 600 degree programs from the certificate to the doctoral level, on campus and online. Working on an undergraduate degree in business communications, Byron is in his junior year at Liberty University through its online program.