On Sunday afternoon at Watkins Glen Raceway, Chase Elliott became the 17th different driver to win for Hendrick Motorsports, handing the organization its 250th Cup Series victory.
So, which wins among them were the most memorable, and why? With a bowtie on our shirts and our ball caps on backward, we present to you the top 10 greatest Cup wins in Hendrick Motorsports history.
1. Sovran Bank 500, Martinsville Speedway, April 28, 1984
This was the biggest win in Hendrick Motorsports (then All-Star Racing) history, not merely because it was their first win but because if they hadn’t won, they were done. Having already raced way past his budget, car dealer Rick Hendrick’s new hobby was racing him toward bankruptcy, with no sponsorship on his Chevy aside from a sticker from his own City Chevrolet dealership in Charlotte. Geoff Bodine’s victory over Ron Bouchard literally saved the team from being shuttered after only eight races. If this all sounds familiar, it should. It’s the inspiration behind the plot of “Days of Thunder.”
2. Subway 500, Martinsville Speedway, Oct. 24, 2004
The day begins tragically, as a Hendrick Motorsports plane en route to Martinsville crashes in the nearby mountains, killing 10, including four members of the Hendrick family — Rick’s brother John, two nieces and son Ricky, heir to the HMS kingdom. News of the crash doesn’t reach the track until after the race starts. Jimmie Johnson wins, and the resulting Victory Lane scene is one of the most heartbreaking yet memorable moments in NASCAR history.
3. 1994 Brickyard 400, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Aug. 6, 1994
Wunderkind Jeff Gordon’s win in the inaugural Brickyard 400 unofficially kicks off a NASCAR boom that continues for the next two decades. All at once. Jeff Gordon is anointed as the sport’s next legend (it’s his second career win, three months after his first in the Coca-Cola 600) and stock car racing is promoted to the front of the line of American motorsports, finally allowed to race on Indy’s hallowed ground.
4. Ford EcoBoost 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Nov. 20, 2016
Jimmie Johnson rallies from a slow regular season to win the 2016 finale and tie what was once considered to be an unreachable record, matching Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s mark of seven Cup Series titles.
5. 1997 Daytona 500, Feb. 16, 1997
Jeff Gordon plays chicken with Dale Earnhardt and doesn’t blink, going on to lead a 1-2-3 Hendrick Motorsports sweep around Bill Elliott to earn his first Daytona 500 victory. It also sets the stage for his second title in three years and one of the most dominating seasons in NASCAR history. His celebration with teammates Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven is particularly emotional because boss Rick Hendrick isn’t there. Instead, he is back at home in North Carolina fighting leukemia and gearing up for a yearlong legal fight.
6. Miller High Life 500, Pocono, June 14, 1987
Tim Richmond wins in his first start of the year, the season’s 12th race, after returning from a season-long illness. The Ohio wild man’s unlikely mentor is the original Hendrick crew chief and godfather of the team, Harry Hyde. Richmond and Hyde win again the following weekend at Riverside, but Richmond succumbs to his mystery sickness — eventually revealed as AIDS — two months later.
7. 1997 Southern 500, Darlington, Aug. 31, 1997
Jeff Gordon survives a showdown — and a white flag door slam — from rival Jeff Burton, to become only the second driver to win the Winston Million payday bonus. The first? Bill Elliott, father of Chase, who 20 years later will take over Gordon’s ride and eventually earn the team’s 250th win.
8. 1989 Daytona 500, Feb. 19, 1989
The “superteam” finally fulfills its promise by reaching NASCAR’s promised land, as Darrell Waltrip and crew chief Jeff Hammond, hired away from Junior Johnson two years earlier, snap Waltrip’s career-long slump in the Great American Race by outlasting teammate Ken Schrader. They also snap out of a disappointing early tenure at HMS, winning six races in ’89 after only three wins the previous two seasons. DW’s Icky Shuffle and “Thank God!” celebration is still among the most iconic Daytona 500 Victory Lane celebrations.
9. 1995 Food City 500, Bristol Motor Speedway, Aug. 25, 1995
Terry Labonte wins the most memorable of all Bristol night races, turned sideways across the finish line by Dale Earnhardt and driving into Victory Lane in a totally destroyed race car. Read all about that legendary night here.
10. 2014 Daytona 500, Feb. 23, 2014
After six disappointing seasons with HMS, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally breaks through to win the Daytona 500 and does so in dramatic fashion, holding off a furious field — not to mention a final turn Big One — to spark his greatest stretch with the team, winning four races in 2014 and seven over the next two years. He also joins Twitter while standing in Victory Lane, forever changing NASCAR social media.
1986 Daytona 500, Feb. 16, 1986
Geoff Bodine brings the team its first win in the Great American Race, feathering the throttle to save fuel and outlasting Dale Earnhardt on a day that officially kicked off a rivalry between HMS and Richard Childress Racing.
1996 First Union 400, North Wilkesboro Speedway, April 14, 1996
Terry Labonte, driving a silver “Ironman” Chevy, sets the record for consecutive Cup series starts and does so historically, winning the next-to-last race run at North Wilkesboro Speedway by edging out teammate Jeff Gordon. Labonte would go on to edge out Gordon to win the Cup championship, his Wilkesboro victory one of only two wins on the season.
2006 UAW-Ford 500, Talladega Superspeedway, Oct. 8, 2006
Brian Vickers wins via some highly controversial last-lap contact with teammate Jimmie Johnson and future HMS driver Dale Jr. But among the Hendrick family it is still regarded as a special moment, because signing Vickers to the team four years earlier had been the personal choice of Ricky Hendrick, one year before losing his life in the plane crash.
2006 Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 19, 2006
Jimmie Johnson wins his first Daytona 500 while crew chief Chad Knaus is benched for a raised rear window found after qualifying. Race engineer Darian Grubb fills in for Knaus, and they win the biggest event of the year, displaying the depth of the team and sparking a 10-win season that leads to Johnson’s first championship.
2015 Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, Martinsville Speedway, Oct. 1, 2015
Gordon’s last win for the organization, snapping a 39-race winless streak, propelled him into the championship race in his final season. Although he didn’t win the title, the race victory punctuated Gordon’s career of clutch performances and made his final season one worthy of a Hall of Fame career.