Uncanny: Powerful Hendrick Motorsports goes from four to just one team left in Chase

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Hendrick Motorsports has never seen a day like Sunday.

It came into the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway with four teams in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

When the checkered flag fell after 194 laps – six more than the scheduled 188 – as hard as it may seem to believe, only one HMS driver will advance to the Eliminator Round.

You can forget about:

  • Jimmie Johnson’s bid to defend last year’s championship and his hope to win a seventh Sprint Cup crown.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s bid to earn his first-ever Sprint Cup championship and to send Steve Letarte out as a championship-winning crew chief. Letarte is leaving HMS after this season to become an analyst on NBC telecasts of NASCAR races next season.
  • Kasey Kahne’s Cinderella-like hopes to move into the third round of the Chase.

As NASCAR moves to the next race at Martinsville, only the patriarch of the four HMS drivers, four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon, will be left to represent the team in the Eliminator Round.

His so-called “Drive For Five” bid for a fifth career Cup championship and his first since 2001 is still alive and well.

“I’m just mentally drained right now,” Gordon told ESPN. “It’s always tough to race here at Talladega and put yourself in position and know your championship hopes are right there in that final moment. It’s nerve-wracking.

“I’m proud of this team and the job they did. We fought hard.

“I’m just glad we made it. I can’t wait for Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, all great tracks for us. This team has done some amazing work this year, these next three are where we’re really going to shine and show them.”

Gordon acknowledged how difficult it is to know he is the only driver left to salvage HMS’s championship hopes, but at the same time, it’s somewhat of a byproduct of racing at Talladega and the situation the three now-eliminated drivers faced coming into Sunday’s race.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “We knew that Jimmie and Junior were in tough positions, but if anyone could win this race, either one of those guys could.

“Kasey raced hard all day. I really thought he was going to make it.

“These are three guys that could have been factors in this championship. Great teams, great drivers and friends of mine and I hate to see them not in there.

“But we’re going to try to make Hendrick proud and go out there and get ourselves to Homestead.”

Kahne missed the Eliminator Round by just three points. When interviewed by ESPN after the race, he seemed as if he was still in disbelief that he fell short.

“You just try and get the best finish you can,” Kahne said. “I’m in 20th (position in the race) and got back up to 11th.

“It was tough if you weren’t in the top few spots. Once I was 10th, eighth, it was really difficult to get back up to that point and that was it.”

30 Seconds to Know: How does the Chase Eliminator round work?

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Supercross: Talon Hawkins to debut in Houston in relief of Jalek Swoll

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Talon Hawkins, 19, will make his Monster Energy Supercross debut on a 250 this week in Houston, Texas as a fill-in rider for Jalek Swoll.

During the Anaheim 2 weekend, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team announced Swoll underwent successful surgery to repair a broken arm suffered in a practice crash.

That same weekend, Hawkins made some noise. He took the lead from teammate Casey Cohran on Lap 2 of the 250 SX Futures Main and led for three laps before he was overtaken by eventual winner Daxton Bennick. Cochran also got around him to push Hawkins to third.

This will not be Hawkins SuperMotocross professional debut, however; he made three Lucas Oil Pro Motocross starts last year with results of 19th at Spring Creek in Millville, Minnesota, 27th at Ironman in Crawfordsville, Indiana and a best finish of 17th in the season finale at Fox Raceway in Pala, California.

Hawkins also has a top-10 finish in the 125 All-Star division at Pala in 2019 riding a Husqvarna.

Speaking with RacerXOnline.com before the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals, Hawkins predicted his future with Husqvarna would come down to how he performed in that race.

“It all just comes down to how I perform at Loretta’s,” Hawkins said. “Say I do really well, I get a top three in both classes and do a pretty solid job, I would like to go pro and just kind of finish out the rest of the series. But there’s also the option of waiting a little bit longer, going back out to [Aldon] Baker’s [Factory] or going anywhere and training, and just being prepared. I’m also open to that too. Honestly, it’s whatever the team wants. Whatever we think is the best option is what we’re going to go with. So, I don’t really have a plan right now, just looking into the future.”

Hawkins finished third overall in the 125 B/C and Schoolboy divisions at the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals.