Getty Images

William Byron was negative 13 years old the first time Hendrick Motorsports earned a NASCAR Cup Series victory at Martinsville. Geoff Bodine earned the win that day in 1984, the first for a fledgling team that could have shut down after the race with anything less.

40 years later, HMS commemorated that anniversary with over 1,500 employees, past and present, sitting outside of Turn 2 at the sport's iconic old short track. What has since become NASCAR's most successful team gave them quite a show: the first 1-2-3 finish in Martinsville history. Byron led the way with Kyle Larson second and Chase Elliott third, notching the team's record 29th victory at this half-mile bullring.

It was another fairy-tale ending, more history made for a team that's come a long way from that ragtag performance as an unsponsored, single-car organization.

"You just cannot plan it any better," said Jeff Gordon, former HMS driver turned vice chairman of the company. "Script it any better. When I talked to Rick [Hendrick, owner], hearing his excitement and joy of how special this was, how proud he is of us, this incredible legacy that he's put in kind of our hands to nurture and take care of and try to keep it going."

For now, it's Byron carrying the torch, charging forward from 18th at a track where passing remains next to impossible with the Next Gen chassis. A strategic final stop launched him ahead of Denny Hamlin, track position held even when a late caution for John Hunter Nemechek set up a green-white-checkered finish.

The chemistry between Byron and head wrench Rudy Fugle, in those moments, is what keeps this organization as strong as it is. HMS has produced some of the most legendary driver/crew chief pairings in history: Gordon-Ray Evernham, Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus and Dale Earnhardt Jr.-Steve Letarte.

What has sent Byron-Fugle rocketing toward that level is their push to rewrite history on tracks they struggle at. The Martinsville race last fall was one of their toughest days of an otherwise stellar season: Byron ran 13th, his second-worst performance of the playoffs and was so exhausted by the end he all but collapsed on pit road.

"I was spent last fall," Byron admitted. "I think that brought a lot of anxiety and nightmares coming up here this time."

But that's where Fugle and Byron turn angst into action, mastering the track on a day where everyone else ran in place. Their evolution speaks to the way Hendrick's always been able to both scout out talent and place people in the right spot to be successful.

"When you walk in the doors at Hendrick Motorsports," Byron explained, "It is just fascinating to me how clean everything is, how nice everything is, then how the culture is with the people inside there. Being able to go up to anyone and ask a question. There's a real racer's mindset to go fast and compete, but at the same time they took me in with open arms when I was 20 years old, made me feel at home."

Now, Byron turns 27 this year and HMS is bearing the fruits of their kindness yet another time in its 40-year history. It's just another potential Hall of Famer driver in the making for an organization that churns them out like clockwork.

Now, they have another grandfather clock to show for their efforts.

Traffic Report

Green: Chase Elliott. A third-place finish used to be like another day at the office for the 2020 Cup champion. Now? It's welcome news after a prolonged slump saw the sport's Most Popular Driver slide down the totem pole at HMS. This run marks his best since Indianapolis last August as Elliott's put together back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time since last June.  

Yellow: Ryan Blaney. Last fall's Martinsville winner easily had the fastest car during the final stage. What Blaney didn't have was track position after needing to pit twice under yellow early in the race with a loose wheel. Running fifth, the reigning Cup champ's fourth top-five result ties him for most in the series but boy, has he left a lot of points on the table.

Red: Brad Keselowski. Some momentum in early March has been halted by two finishes of 24th or worse for the 2012 Cup champ over the past three races. RFK Racing just isn't running as well as it did in 2023, part of a sloppy start by Ford across the board. For Keselowski, there's been a sense of urgency as his winless streak ticks up to a career-worst 106 races.

Speeding Ticket: 16+ Winners. Another bad day for the sport's short track package was capped by Byron winning his season-best third race of the year. That's only five winners in eight races, bad news for those who don't like NASCAR's "win and you're in" playoff format.

Since 2014, NASCAR not once has had more than 16 winners during the regular season. That means any full-time driver who wins at any time during the year automatically "clinches" a playoff spot. Could you imagine your favorite baseball team earning a playoff berth the second weekend of the season?

When more drivers don't win, that's basically what happens under this system. The hope is NASCAR tweaks it for 2025 but until then? You'll see the 2024 winners experiment and test some weeks knowing their bid is already secured.


Slim pickings for a race that had just three cautions for cause, unusual for what used to be one of NASCAR's bump-and-grind short tracks. Instead, the best we can do is this lost lug nut ruining Christopher Bell's day, one of two cautions the No. 20 Toyota caused.

The issues were par for the course for what's been a rollercoaster season for Bell: a win and three podium finishes combined with three runs of 33rd or worse. He finished a season-low 35th on Sunday, four laps off the pace.