Hendrick Motorsports is in a great position right now. See, after a few down years for them, they’re right back up front in the NASCAR Cup Series. Chase Elliott won the championship last year and is the face of this sport for the foreseeable future. The thing was, with them losing Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., how was HMS going to replace them and remain relevant and running up front?
Elliott stepped up. Now has Alex Bowman and William Byron. Then, you go out and sign a driver without him bringing funding in the sense of Kyle Larson and as quickly as it all went downhill, it’s right back up soaring to potential heights that we’ve never seen before.
But, if they weren’t patient, who knows where HMS would be right now.
I mean HMS was all about Gordon in the 90’s and into the 2000’s. It was him, Terry Labonte and whoever else could take care of the third car. Labonte won the 1996 title then declined after. HMS took a chance on Johnson in the early 2000’s and he and Gordon had their decade plus reign soon after. Gordon stepped away almost a decade ago, but no one fully stepped up into his role soon after.
Now, for the first time in really ever, HMS has four formidable drivers who can compete for race wins by the week and championships by the year. Did I mention all were under the age of 30 too?
HMS did it right by building it this way. The lean years were rough, but they didn’t freak out and have a turnstile of drivers in the process either. They showed patience and groomed their drivers as their own giving them the confidence to jus tlearn.
Bowman had a lot of pressure to come in and replace Earnhardt Jr. After a winless season in 2018 with just three top five’s, he finally found victory lane in 2019 and more than doubled his top five total from 3 to 7. He’d win another race in 2020 and further his ascension. He went from 16th to 12th to 6th in the final standings the last three years. Now, just nine races into 2021, he’s already won and showing signs of how he ended last season.
Same for Chase Elliott. He started his Cup career off 0-for-99. Then, he won at Watkins Glen and took off. There could have been doubters. If his name wasn’t Elliott, how long would he hold onto this ride?
HMS stressed patience. Elliott, has won 11 of his last 96 starts including last year’s title.
Patience paid off.
Then you have Byron. The noise was getting louder. Maybe he’s in over his head. Maybe he needed more time. Maybe he’s not as good as we all thought. He was rushed up through the ranks folks. He had one year in Trucks and one in Xfinity and then he was a full time Cup driver. People forget how young he is.
Byron though started his Cup career off 0-for-97. Then he won last August in Daytona. But he started 2021 with his third crew chief in four years. Was it him?
No. It was his inexperience. He just needed time. Byron, has the longest top 10 streak for HMS in-a-row since 2016. Out of the 10 races run in 2021, eight of them have been away from Daytona. He has a top eight result in all. Byron now looks like what we all thought he’d eventually become. It just took growing pains to get there.
Same with Elliott. Same with Bowman. HMS stressed patience and boy was he right. Other teams don’t have that patience. I mean just look at how Joey Logano, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones were treated. If you don’t win in your first couple of years, they’ll find someone else behind you who will.
HMS gives you more time to groom.
Logano, had two wins in his first 147 starts. He has 25 in his last 298. JGR moved him up too quickly, like Byron was, but cut ties with him before he could become great. The pressure was too much and off he went to Penske with a fresh start.
It paid off.
This is further proof that as the drivers get younger and younger in the sport and start earlier and earlier, you have to give them more and more time in the seat, not less.
HMS has it figure out and they’re set for the long haul.