Hendrick looking to add to historic legacy with 14th championship on Sunday in Phoenix

AVONDALE, AZ — When it comes to winning titles in the NASCAR Cup Series, no organization does it better than Hendrick Motorsports with their series leading 13 championships among four drivers – Chase Elliott (2020), Jimmie Johnson (2016, ’13, ’10, ’09, ’08, ’07, ’06), NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon (2001, ’98, ’97, ’95) and Terry Labonte (1996).

Overall Hendrick Motorsports has 16 NASCAR national series owner championships, the all-time record in NASCAR.

And to boot, Hendrick Motorsports was the first organization in the series history to win four straight, from 1995-98 (Jeff Gordon in 1995 and 1997-98; Terry Labonte 1996). And then upped their record in the series with five straight, from 2006-2010 (Jimmie Johnson). Hendrick Motorsports has won 13 of the last 26 NASCAR Cup Series championships (1995-2020), putting the team’s title-winning percentage during that span at 50% – series-best.

But the 2021 season has been extra special with what the Hendrick Motorsports organization has been able accomplish. Heading into Phoenix this weekend, Hendrick Motorsports has earned 16 NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2021; Hendrick Motorsports’ second-most in a single season and third-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present). 2021 is the organization’s 36th straight season with a victory; longest-ever streak by a team in the series and its 37th season overall with a win; the most-ever by a team in the series. Plus, Hendrick Motorsports swept first and second in seven races this season; tied for the second-most all-time and most by a team in NASCAR’s Modern Era. They also became one of two teams in Cup Series history to finish 1-2 in four straight races (between Dover and Sonoma). And to top all of that, the organization became the all-time wins leader in the NASCAR Cup Series with 279 total Cup wins – lead all other teams by 11 victories. Kyle Larson’s win in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway broke the all-time record previously held by Petty Enterprises (268 wins).

The Hendrick Motorsport’s foursome of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman also became the only team in NASCAR’s Modern Era to win six straight races (between Dover and Pocono) and the only team in Cup history to have all four Cup cars entered in a race sweep the top-four finishes positions (Dover). They also became the first team in history with four winners under age 30 in a single season.

Absolutely,” Hendrick said on if he thinks the organization is back where it needs to be in terms of dominance. “I mean, when you have a Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte, you won four championships in a row, you won a ton of races, then you kind of go through a rebuilding year, you don’t Jeff or Jimmie or Dale, and you’ve got Alex Bowman and William Byron and Chase Elliott.

“You watch Larson. He say, Hey, he’s got a tremendous amount of talent. Can he be a team player? Can he come in an organization and have an impact, really help the other guys? The answer to all those is yes.

“I’ve been amazed with William Byron, his year. You work at where he was, if he had gotten in the Roval, he looked like he was going to win that race. He could have been a player in the championship.

“Alex won four races. Chase is going for the back-to-back championship. When you have everybody working together, when you have the crew chiefs not trying to hide things but legitimately wanting to help each other and make all the cars better. Communication between the drivers where you don’t have a driver that’s upset with the other driver or jealous, just building a wall between them.

“Again, it’s the best we’ve ever had when you look at four crew chiefs and four drivers. We had Jimmie Johnson that won seven, won five in a row. The rest of the organization was running at that par.

“This has been a phenomenal year for us.”

This season Hendrick Motorsports led a combined 3,918 laps; fifth-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972)-Present); 100 laps led away from a new Hendrick Motorsports team record (4,017 in 2009). Junior Johnson and Associates holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era organization record for the most laps led in a single season with 4,296.

Hendrick Motorsports 2021 dominance doesn’t end there, they also posted 32 finishes inside the top two; currently tied with Joe Gibbs Racing (2019) for the most in the Modern Era (since 1972), scored 81 top-10 finishes; the team’s third-most (84 in 2007, 82 in 2012), posted 53 top-five finishes; the team’s second-most (57 in 2007) and won 27 stages; had only won 33 prior to 2021.

Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2004, the 2021 is the first time Hendrick Motorsports has placed two drivers in the Championship 4 Round (Elliott, Larson). Impressively, Hendrick Motorsports has won at least one Playoff race in each of the 17 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 52 postseason wins, most all-time.

Kyle Larson can add to the legacy of Hendrick Motorsports this weekend by winning the title and extending the organization’s record in series championships. If he accomplishes the feat, he will be the organization’s fifth different driver that has earned a NASCAR Cup Series championship. In total, 13 different organizations have won at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series, led by Hendrick Motorsports with 11 victories.

“More. Much more than I would anticipate him doing,” Hendrick said on if Larson has lived up to what he expected when he signed him this time last year. ‘He pledged $140,000, $150,000 to causes so far. He visited a week or so ago three food banks in Raleigh, Charlotte, Charleston, gave away a ton of money. He’s been kind of the front of our whole program for feeding people. He goes into markets and situations with kids, goes to speak to kids.

“He’s doing so much on his own, not just with us, but he’s got other charities that he’s been supporting. I don’t know any driver out there as busy as that guy is, that spends as much time trying to do good for other people.

“If you just look at his track record, what he’s accomplished this year, going and visiting food banks, schools, giving money away, just trying to be a model citizen, I’m just really proud of him.

“I didn’t ask him to do any of that. He did that on his own.

“I think the word was, before this year, that Kyle was fast but he couldn’t close, he couldn’t run a 500-mile race and be there at the end. He’s proven everybody wrong in that area.

“You know when a guy’s fast, he’s capable. But then I’ve witnessed him being so good at managing his tires and giving up a little bit in one part of the race to be better at the end, give up a little bit early in the run to be good at the end of the run. That takes a lot of patience. When you couple patience and understanding of what the tire and car can do, then you put that talent with it, you see the results this year.

“I’ve been amazed at how he can control a race. I say control it for himself, can feel the race along with Cliff telling him what’s going on.

“He doesn’t mind getting coached, either. You can hear Cliff telling him somebody is driving a car length deeper, backing off a car length before he is. He takes it and soaks it in. It’s been amazing.

“I can see why he’s won so many races, not just in our car but everything he gets in. He’s competitive, smart. He knows how to race. I mean, a lot of people might be fast, but they don’t know how to race. He knows how to race.”

As far as what makes him succeed so well, especially in the first year at HMS, Hendrick said that it’s due to how much Larson races and how much he can translate over from the dirt ranks to the Cup car.

“I think car control and racing on the dirt has helped him a lot. But he’s got tremendous confidence. He believes that he can drive anything, and he believes he can win in anything.

“That confidence builds a lot of — he just gets in a car ready to go. He doesn’t complain. But he also spends more time than people might know studying setups and studying the history of the races, digging into the information in our company just to see if he can get better or he can make the car better, wanting to help Cliff.

“But I think confidence, car control is just something that he’s just got a ton of.”

There’s a new car coming out next year though. Does that make the last two years all for not or can they take anything away from 2020 and 2021 and apply it to 2022 even if the racing may change. 

“Yeah, I think the momentum that the team has, I think the way they work together, can only be more beneficial in the new car. I mean, you still are going to have a lot to work with. Although most of the parts and pieces are handed to you, but still you have tire data, setups. There’s a lot that you have to make work.

“If you have four guys that are working together and four crew chiefs that are working together, you’re going to get there a lot faster.

“I’ve seen it with everything that we’ve done, whether it’s pit crews. We looked at our pit crews towards the end of the year. The 5 team had one of the best pit crews on pit road. There’s a lot of new guys and a lot of guys that were off of pit crews in our organization.

“I think just the chemistry, we’ll take that into the new year with the new car. I think if we execute exactly like we’re doing now, we should have really good results. I don’t know that we’ll win as many races, but we’ll be super competitive.”

For the front office and competition side, at the end of last season, Jeff Andrews was moved to Executive Vice President and General Manager effective immediately. Andrews, joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1992 and had served as Vice President of Competition since 2017.

Replacing him starting for this season was Chad Knaus. The former crew chief will report to Andrews. Those proved to be great moves. Andrews, is reporting to President Marshall Carlson.

The alignment for the future is taking shape. Then came last month’s announcement that Jeff Gordon has been named vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, which will make him the second-ranking team official to chairman and majority owner Rick Hendrick.

As vice chairman and co-owner, Gordon will maintain a daily presence at Hendrick Motorsports with a focus on the organization’s competition and marketing groups. The Vallejo, California, native will report to Hendrick and work alongside Carlson and Andrews. In addition, he will join Hendrick on NASCAR’s team owner council and assume Hendrick Motorsports’ seat on the sanctioning body’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee.

Gordon, 49, will formally assume the strategic executive management role on Jan. 1, 2022.

In October 1999, Gordon became an equity owner of Hendrick Motorsports. He remains Hendrick’s only partner in the 13-time NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning organization, for which Gordon won 93 races and four titles as a driver from 1992 until his retirement from full-time racing in 2015.

“Jeff and I have talked about this for many years, and I feel it’s a natural evolution for him and our company,” said Hendrick, 71, who is also chairman and CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group. “I’ve always been impressed with his business instincts. On some level, he’s been involved in every major decision we’ve made over the last two decades, and his influence has continued to grow since he stopped driving. He understands our culture, our values, and the importance we place on our people and our partnerships.

“I love racing and competing, and Jeff is the only person I know who hates to lose as much as I do. I feel great physically and have no plans to go anywhere anytime soon, which is exactly why it’s the right time. In the years to come, I couldn’t be more energized about working arm-in-arm with him and cementing the future of Hendrick Motorsports together.”

This has HMS in good hands for several decades down the road now. A pair of 28 year old drivers, a 25 year old and 23 year old behind the wheels of their four cars. A 55 year old leading the competition side and a 49 year old now the second in command.

Rick Hendrick has built a NASCAR empire. He’s the all-time winningest car owner in the history of the sport as his drivers have amassed 271 Cup Series victories. Among those wins are 12 Coca-Cola 600 triumphs, 11 Southern 500 wins, 10 Brickyard 400’s victories and 8 Daytona 500’s.

“Mr. H” has led his organization to 13 Cup championships as well.

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