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Fans Not Fully Sold on HMS’ 40th Anniversary 1-2-3 Finish as They Claim Martinsville “Even More Rigged Than Last Week”

Published 04/08/2024, 7:00 AM EDT

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Heading into Martinsville for Hendrick Motorsports’ 40th anniversary, NASCAR had made all the preparations to ensure the day would be as memorable as possible. From Rick Hendrick leading drivers in the pace car to Jeff Gordon stepping in as the Grand Marshal alongside Geoff Bodine, the Cook Out 400 couldn’t have screamed Hendrick Motorsports any louder with the arrangements. However, when the racing kicked off, and the stars seemed to keep aligning for Rick Hendrick’s team, the NASCAR community alleged foul play behind the scenes.

When William Byron crossed the line at Martinsville to secure a historic podium for Hendrick Motorsports, fan reception wasn’t what many expected. For most onlookers who weren’t siding with Rick Hendrick’s camp, the Cook Out 400 couldn’t have been more of a snooze fest. The only action we got was towards the end of the race after an incident triggered a green-white-checkered.

That said, even such a curveball couldn’t stop the dominant HMS trio of William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Chase Elliott from bringing home Martinsville’s first-ever 1-2-3 Cup finish. But it didn’t come easy. When the race started, Kyle Larson, who had scored pole, quickly dropped back behind Bubba Wallace and Joey Logano.

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Despite Larson winning the first stage, getting surprised by Wallace and Logano only further added pressure to HMS on the big day. But just when you thought the winningest team would fall short, they made a run not just for the win but for a historic record, too. Out of nowhere, William Byron’s #24 began to charge for the lead with help from Rudy Fugle’s pit strategy. And he wasn’t the only HMS driver whose fortunes had turned around.

Before Byron’s late dominance, it was Chase Elliott who had dethroned the #5 HMS driver. As the third stage drew to a close, Larson closely followed Elliott and Byron to round out the podium for HMS. But this is when another curve ball threw itself at the winningest team. John Hunter Nemechek spun out, triggering a caution with only two laps to go. This meant that the 1-2-3, which seemed so secure, wasn’t so after all.

Denny Hamlin, running fourth behind the HMS drivers when the caution fell, pitted for fresher ties as an alternate strategy to the leaders. Unfortunately for the JGR driver, six cars behind him also opted to stay out. This put the #11 outside the top 10 and again turned the tides in favor of HMS on their big day.

Naturally, how Hendrick Motorsports could not only convert Kyle Larson’s earlier losses into a locked-out HMS podium but also how they coincidentally prevented Hamlin’s charge caused suspicion. However, the controversy had just begun as the NASCAR community couldn’t help but throw around accusations that the race might have been scripted to give HMS the upper hand.

The stars aligning for Hendrick Motorsports was “quite sus” for the NASCAR community

As William Byron crossed the line to secure an iconic win for Hendrick Motorsports, the fact the #24 had made it out front against all odds baffled fans. Adding to the bafflement, the 1-2-3 finish was something fans couldn’t see coming until the final stage began. But once the HMS cars picked up pace, there was no stopping them.

The fact that even Denny Hamlin’s counter-strategy didn’t create an issue for HMS, the inevitable result numbed fans. A user shared their doubts, “Hendrick 1, 2 & 3 on their 40th anniversary is quite sus.” After Larson lost the lead to Hamlin in the second stage, no one expected HMS to bounce back the way they did. Another user pointed to their Chevys: “Most illegal cars in history.”

Before the big weekend began, it was already quite obvious how crucial a win would be for Rick Hendrick’s side. Still, the result didn’t sit well with most. A user who witnessed Richmond’s green-white-checkered debacle stated, “Even more rigged than last week, tbh.” One week ago in Richmond, Denny Hamlin jumped the final restart but got away with it. NASCAR officials didn’t penalize him, and he won his 53rd Cup Series race.

At this time, when viewership numbers are something NASCAR is trying to get back up, such controversial incidents undoubtedly get the sport more traction. Given how the race at Martinsville played out, another fan had a controversial question, “When are you going to stop letting Hendrick Motorsports cheat?”

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Talking about the predictable result, users who weren’t fond of the winningest team’s unrivaled dominance pulled no punches against the officials for allowing it in the first place. A concerned fan shared, “It was like there was a script in place, a shameful exhibition of what NASCAR is. @DaleJr, @JeffBurton & @KevinHarvick, PLEASE don’t ruin the @CARSTour with things you’ve learned from CORPORATE racing!”

After HMS sealed victory, some fans were also concerned about the future of competitive racing in the Cup Series. One fan stated, “This wasn’t even a race. NASCAR is no longer the same as once was.” On the other hand, another X user tried to look at the positives, “Rigged, but Bubba Wallace finished 4th, so it’s fine.” At the end of the day, the community certainly wasn’t too pleased with the one-sided dominance. “This ‘race’ was like watching fixed WWE matches….outcome inevitable! NASCAR on edge of losing me.

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After looking at the animosity building within the community over Hendrick Motorsports dominance, can NASCAR step up and level the playing field further?

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Written by:

Kabir Bajaj Ahmed

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Kabir Bajaj Ahmed is an F1 & NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. Known for his storytelling and extensive research skills, he has covered multiple stories on Dale Earnhardt Jr and his legendary dad, allowing readers to relive the thunderous days of 'The Intimidator'. Being a racer himself, Kabir can resonate with the motorsport world better than most.
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Edited by:

Ariva Debnath