Hendrick Motorsports came into the 2021 season without their seven-time champion driver for the first time since 2001. Jimmie Johnson retired following the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season and was replaced. Four young drivers all under the age of 30 drove for one of the most well-known race teams in the world this season. The team was hoping to stockpile more victories and win back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series Championships after Chase Elliott won the title last year. The 2021 season went far better for all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers than anyone could’ve imagined.
The following article continues a FlurrySports series that looks back on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season from the perspective of drivers and race teams. Read on for season reviews ofWilliam Byron and Alex Bowman, the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers who ultimately fell short of reaching the Championship 4.
NASCAR Cup Series 2021 Season Reviews | Hendrick Motorsports (Part II)
William Byron — No. 24
William Byron returned to drive the No. 24 car in his fourth season in the NASCAR Cup Series. After winning his first race last year and reaching the NASCAR Playoffs, Byron was optimistic coming into 2021.
William Byron Follows Rough Start at Daytona with Stunning Win at Homstead
Unfortunately, William Byron’s season got off to a slow start. He cut down a tire in the Daytona 500. Then, Byron had some more problems the following week running on the Daytona Road Course and finished 33rd. In the third race of the year at Homestead-Miami, however, his fortunes changed.
Byron managed to shock the NASCAR Cup Series world by winning the Dixie Vodka 400. He dominated the race, leading 102 laps on his way to his second career race win. The victory also allowed him to and clinch his spot in the NASCAR Playoffs much earlier than a year ago.
Strong Results on a Near-Weekly Basis
The win at Homestead-Miami began a streak of 11 straight races in which William Byron scored top-10 finishes. This run included a second-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway. At Circuit of the Americas, the top-10 streak would end as Byron was running 11th when they called the race due to rain.
Byron got back to his consistent ways by finishing fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 but crashed out late in the following race at Sonoma. He was quick to rebound once again with back-to-back third-place finishes at Nashville and Pocono.
William Byron Endures Summer Slump
After the second race at the “Tricky Triangle”, William Byron went through a rough stretch of finishes. He finished 33rd at Road America, 20th at Atlanta, and 21st at New Hampshire. In the last four races before the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, he finished sixth at Watkins Glen, got caught up in the weird wreck at the Indianapolis, finished runner-up at Michigan, and wrecked out of the regular-season finale at Daytona.
Byron Fails to Overcome Early Postseason Woes
William Byron wrecked out of the first playoff race at Darlington and then had a bad race at Richmond where he finished 19th. The No. 24 team went to Bristol for the Round of 16 cutoff needing to come back from a massive points deficit. With a third-place finish and some trouble for Aric Almirola, Byron was able to scoot his way into the next round.
In the Round of 12, Byron did not have as much good fortune go his way. Poor Hendrick Motorsports pit strategy did him in at Las Vegas, and he was then caught up in a wreck at Talladega. While Byron gave everything he had at the Charlotte ROVAL in the cutoff and was leading the race late, the field got bunched up on a late restart and he wound up 11th. This ended his postseason run short of the Round of 8. Byron went on to have two top-5 finishes and another top-10 in the three Round of 8 races. The No. 24 team could only ponder what might have been had they not run into trouble early in the NASCAR Playoffs.
Future if Bright for William Byron with Hendrick Motorsports
William Byron had a very solid 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season with one win, 12 top-5s and 20 top-10s finishes to supplement his 13.6 average finish on the year. He will be back in the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports next year and hope to take the next steps as a championship contender driving the new Next Gen Cars.
Alex Bowman — No. 48
After driving the No. 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports previously, Alex Bowman shifted over to the vacated No. 48 beginning with the 2021 season.
Inconsistency Hampers Alex Bowman Early on in 2021
Following the footsteps of Jimmie Johnson isn’t easy, but Alex Bowman made an early impression by winning the pole for the Daytona 500. Unfortunately, he was wrecked out early in the race and finished near the back of the final results. Back-to-back top-10s followed, providing some hope for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. The NASCAR Cup Series west coast swing that followed broke Bowman’s momentum a little bit. This became a common theme for Bowman early in the season. His results went back-and-forth in terms of success on a seemingly weekly basis.
Alex Bowman Blows the Field Away on Late Restart to Win at Richmond
At Richmond Raceway, a timely caution late in the race proved to be the break Alex Bowman needed. He blew the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series field away on the ensuing restart and cruised to his first win in over a full calendar year. It came in a race that Bowman was not considered one of the best cars until the very end.
Unfortunately, the winning vibes were short-lived as Bowman wrecked out the following week at Talladega. Kansas and Darlington brought about more bad finishes for the No. 48 team, but it all came together again at Dover International Speedway. In reality, the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization stole the show at the “Monster Mile”. Bowman led a 1-2-3-4 finish at Dover for HMS to score his second race win of the season.
Dover Win Breeds More Stable Results
Alex Bowman managed to stay pretty consistent after the Hendrick Motorsports party at Dover. He scored top-10 finishes in every start after that up until Road America. At Pocono, he found himself in victory lane after HMS teammate Kyle Larson blew a tire in the final turn on the final lap. Atlanta and New Hampshire would ultimately be Bowman’s final two top-10s until the regular-season finale at Daytona. He went into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs seeded sixth in the points standings.
Alex Bowman Falls Short of Championship but Scores Third Win Late in Season
After some early trouble at Darlington and Richmond, a fifth-place finish at Bristol was just good enough to see Alex Bowman advance on to the Round of 12. Much like his teammate William Byron in the No. 24 car, Bowman’s Round of 12 was not very positive. The same Hendrick Motorsports team pit strategy ruined his chances at Las Vegas. Bowman also wrecked at Talladega, and just did not have the pace to keep up with the rest of the playoff drivers at Charlotte.
Although he was eliminated from championship contention after the Round of 12, Bowman still got one more shining moment as he earned himself a Grandfather Clock by winning the penultimate race of the season at Martinsville.
Bowman Will Look to Build on Career Year
Alex Bowman had himself a career year in 2021 with four wins, eight top-5s and 16 top-10s. His overall average finish for the year was 15.1. Bowman is a threat to win plenty more NASCAR Cup Series races in 2022 and beyond after inking a contract extension to stay with Hendrick Motorsports moving forward.
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