Top 5 early things to watch for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season

New Car For 2022, How Much Does This Change The Racing

This is the obvious one. All three current manufacturers will roll out new cars for next season as it begins for the new look Busch Clash in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 6. From there, we get a week off before kicking the season off for the annual Daytona 500 on President’s Day weekend.

The thing is, no one fully knows what to expect out of this new car yet. It really hasn’t been tested as much as one would think. While they started off doing single car tests, then upped to to one for each manufacturer and then finally to multi team tests in late summer and this fall, no one truly has a clue how this car will race in 2022.

Will the heat be a factor inside of these cars? Will they keep being developed and built as the season goes on?

“We don’t know what to expect,” Denny Hamlin said. “It’s going to be a bunch of changes. To me it’s going to be like the Car of Tomorrow. The bigger car change we’ve had in years past.

“I don’t know how we’re going to prepare. I’m trusting the team to really kind of guide the ship in the right direction.”

Does he throw away his past notebooks?

“Oh, all of it. There won’t be much that will correlate from that car to this one.”

Chase Elliott agreed.

“Yeah, I don’t know until we kind of get going and see how the dynamic works,” he said. “But to me there’s a lot of unknowns about the car and I haven’t really spent a lot of time reading into it yet, so we’ll see.”

What we do know is that everything is going to change though. From pit stops, to how the car is raced, to gearing, to the tires, to everything in between, any past stats you see now, well you can essentially throw them out the window. They don’t mean diddly squat anymore because this car is really going to change the way these drivers race these tracks as well as these cars now.

This is going to be a big storyline all season.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 04: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 McDonald’s Toyota, leads Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet, and Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, during the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 04, 2021 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Will Parity Return?

To further the point above, how much margin will be between the top teams and the other teams next season? We saw a lot of early season parity in the sport this past year and the hope is for more in the years to come. The first seven races saw a different driver victorious. In fact, by time we got to the Month of May, we saw 10 different drivers already having won a race in the first 11 events of  the 2021 season. In total, 17 different drivers won the 36 races this past year. Does that same sense of parity transfer over to 2022?

Depends on whom you talk to. With everyone having new cars, everyone has the same stuff. See, in the past, these smaller teams could purchase older equipment from the bigger teams. Now, they don’t have that luxury. Every one has the same car. In turn, you have to have the manpower to put it all together, which means once that car is built, it’s a level playing field across the board.

The thing about that is, do the smaller teams have the ability to replicate what the bigger ones are doing with the cars? The bigger teams are always in the search and pursuit of speed. Does an equal car come down to who has the most resources to make it go faster?

I mean the parity this season was due to this being the final year of this car and everyone having several years of innovation to it and able to maximize everything you can out of it. Now, we start back over with everyone having the same stuff.

Some feel like it evens the playing field while other say it caters to the bigger teams.

Without past notes to go off of to start the year off with, I have a sense that 2022 will be just as wild as 2021 due to the fact that there’s no real advantage yet.

Toyota won 19 of the 36 races run in 2019 and took three of the four spots in the Championship 4. But, even with the same car back in 2020, they slipped. Teams adapted in the offseason. Toyota’s won just nine times in 2020 and put only one car in the final round this time around. It wasn’t the fact that they necessarily fell back, it was the fact that they didn’t develop further up and Chevrolet and Ford caught them.

Ford’s won 18 times in 2020, Chevrolet nine.

In 2021, Chevy took the advantage with earning 19 wins. Toyota was next with 10. Ford had 7.

Last year (2020), Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports won 34 of the 36 points paying races. They took all four of the Championship 4 spots too.

In 2019, the same four teams won 33 of the 36 races run. They also took all four Championship 4 spots again. In 2018, they won 31 of the 36 races. Furniture Row Racing with a JGR alliance won four times that year which if you count them in this mix, that’s 35 of 36 races.

This year, we had eight different organizations winning, three of which were their first time. We also saw three total first time driver winners and two more scoring their second.

Coming into this season, Chip Ganassi Racing had won three times since 2018. Kurt Busch won for them in Atlanta. Richard Childress Racing had won twice over the last three years too. Spire’s upset win in the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 with Justin Haley is the only other team to have won in the Cup Series since the start of the 2018 season.

Now you get 23XI Racing, Kaulig Racing and Front Row Motorsports to this list.

Other than Martin Truex Jr’s title with FRR in 2017, you have to go all the way back to Kurt Busch’s championship with Roush Fenway Racing in 2004 as the last team not named Gibbs, Stewart-Haas, Penske, or Hendrick to win a Cup championship.

Now, every team didn’t have to weigh on what areas to improve upon between last season and next or even try to find places to get speed following a year that you had it. See, that’s another part of the equation in the sense that it’s hard to improve when you’re already on top. It’s easy to find speed when the only direction to go is up.

Plus, with the new car coming out for 2022, how do you decide previously what areas to spend your money in? Why develop more speed in a car that’s going to be obsolete by the end of 2021? Wouldn’t it be better to save the costs for the new car?

Teams had to decide that which I feel like all correlates to Toyota dominating in 2019, Ford in 2020 and Chevrolet in 2021.

Now, it’s a blank slate again. Who’s going to come out on top?

I do think we’ll see some more first time winners as a result of that. We’ve had at least one first time victor each season since 2016. The last time we went a full year without someone earning their first trip to victory lane was back in 2015.

Since then, we’ve actually had two or more in six straight seasons. With that said, who will be the ones coming home victorious in 2022?

LEBANON, TENNESSEE – JUNE 19: Ross Chastain, driver of the #42 Clover Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 19, 2021 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Out of the full time drivers this season, 13 of them have yet to win a race in NASCAR’s premiere series. A few have legitimate odds of doing so this year. We saw Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and Bubba Wallace earn their maiden wins last year. Cole Custer and William Byron each won a race for the first time 2020. Alex Bowman and Justin Haley did so the year prior.

Who are this years?

Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, Corey LaJoie, Matt DiBenedetto, Harrison Burton, Austin Cindric and Cody Ware have each never won a Cup race before.

But to narrow this list down, you can almost certainly almost eliminate the rookies in Cindric and Burton. Nothing against them, but we’ve had just five rookie winners in the last 13 years combined.

I know one of which came just a couple of years ago by Cole Custer at Kentucky, but I just don’t see a legitimate path to bank on this happening. Custer, was the first rookie winner in a Cup race since Chris Buescher in 2016. Buescher, was the first since Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 triumph in 2011. That’s three times in 11 years.

Plus, Custer’s win was via some end of the race luck and cautions. Buescher’s was due to being in the lead when it started raining in Pocono. Same for Joey Logano’s back in 2009 in Loudon. Brad Keselowski and Trevor Bayne won on superspeedway’s. That’s it for rookie winners in the last 13 years.

The thing is though, Cindric may have the best rookie ride in that time frame. He’s taking over the No. 2 Ford with Team Penske and that car has won at least one race in every year since 2006. Does it go winless in 2022?

Reddick is inching closer and closer to victory lane and with this parity, I do think a victory happens next season. He’s had six top fives in two years in Cup to go along with improving his top 10’s from 9 to 15 and making the playoffs this past year.

Same can be said for the Trackhouse duo of Chastain and Suarez. The team looked stout in their first year and now they gain Ganassi’s resources too. Both seem like they’re on the cusp of something so I can make a case to where at least one of them wins in 2022.

Briscoe is also due and if SHR can figure this new car out quickly, he should also land in victory lane extending this streak out.

I can make a case that Cindric, Briscoe, Reddick and 1 of the Trackhouse drivers wins in 2022 and all doing so in the regular season. That’s 3 new playoff drivers again too and with saying that, who among the ones this year gets bumped out?

NASCAR Furthers Shifts To A New Era

The last couple of years we’ve seen a drastic shift in the way that these races are scheduled. Between new venues, new dates and a completely different way of thinking, NASCAR’s season has greatly changed between 2019 to 2020 to 2021 from 2020 and now from 2021 to 2022.

The way these race weekend’s look also is different. We don’t need two full days of practice, a qualifying round sprinkled in there then a race only on Sunday. While practice and qualifying will return, it will be on a vastly limited basis in terms of track time.

Tracks are different so are race weekends.

That’s not the only areas that they’re shifting in. They’re doing so on the competition side too. A new car rolls out in 2022. That’s another big change. New ways for pit stops, new ways to set up a car, new ways to race it. This will be entirely different.

Also, we have a lot of new teams in the fold now too.

2021 saw Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin form 23XI Racing. They joined Pitbull and Justin Marks (Trackhouse Racing) and BJ McLeod/Matt Tifft (Live Fast Racing) as the new teams on the block.

Next season rolls out a second team now for both 23XI Racing and Trackhouse. In fact, Trackhouse got a second team when they bought out Chip Ganassi Racing all together. Kaulig Racing moves up with one full time car and a second one that’s chartered but with multiple drivers sharing it. GMS Racing also moves up to Cup. So does Team Hezeberg with a partnership with Reaume Brothers.

That’s seven new Cup teams in a two year span. What’s next?

“The makeup is going to continue to change,” Steve Phelps said. “You look at the Cup Series, you’ve got Kaulig that’s coming up, you’ve got Justin with two charters that he has bought. It’s going to continue. Lots of other things that are rumored to be happening with additional changes.

“I think it’s good for our sport, I really do. I think it’s healthy to infuse it not just with new fans but new ownership, new brands that are coming into the sport. We’re seeing all those things.”

Brad Keselowski has left Team Penske and bought into Roush Fenway Racing which could spark a new trend of veteran drivers buying into new teams. Hamlin, Tifft, Marks and Keselowski have all done it. Who’s next?

The reason they’re doing this is to control their future. These guys are racers and don’t want to go out of the sport. But, with new drivers coming through the ranks and it shifting to the need to bring money with you, it’s forcing these veteran drivers out. They’re having to take pay cuts when they should be getting raises. So, the next logical step?

Control your own destiny by having your own team.

With that said, I sense we’re going to have more turnover soon. I mean, who thought Chip Ganassi would sell himself completely out of the sport? He never thought it would happen either but the need that Trackhouse had and the money they had available, they made Ganassi and offer he couldn’t refuse.

Who else could be willing to follow Ganassi’s path?

These charters have allowed team owners like Ganassi and others to have a buyout price tag to at least recoup some money to take with them when they leave the sport. It has to have owners like Richard Petty or Richard Childress or even the Wood Brothers wondering if they should follow suit. I mean, what’s their next path?

We know Hendrick Motorsports now has Jeff Gordon and Chad Knaus up next. Joe Gibbs Racing as the Gibbs family to take over. Team Penske has Tim Cindric and others in place. Stewart-Haas has Tony Stewart, Greg Zipadelli and even Gene Haas is still young.

It’s these others that are searching for that next step or having to make the choice to sell or not. With new teams wanting to come into the sport and needing charters to really make it a viable option, if you ever thought of getting out and making a financial gain while doing so, nows the time.

I mean, on track for the drivers standpoint, the changing of the guard has already happened.

Jimmie Johnson is retired. So is Clint Bowyer. They followed recent notable drivers like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, etc as big named drivers to walk away from the sport in recent years. That has also caused a shift in the series and a changing of the guard per say.

Chase Elliott’s win and championship last year at Phoenix and Johnson’s final race which sparked the two having a nice moment on track after, is the image that comes to mind for this changing of the guard. I mean, think about it, Johnson takes his 83 wins and seven championships with him to usher out the old and Elliott’s earns his first title and usher in the new era. Kyle Larson followed it up next.

From Richard Petty to Dale Earnhardt to Jeff Gordon to Jimmie Johnson/Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Chase Elliott/Kyle Larson?

Elliott, is now a champion and a four time defending Most Popular Driver of the Year award recipient. This is his NASCAR now. The shadows of the past are gone. Can he take this new era of NASCAR to bigger depths again?

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 31: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 31, 2021 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

In this new era of NASCAR is one that’s promoting more parity too. With Johnson now gone from the sport on a full time basis, Kyle Busch (2015, 2019) is the only driver left with more than one championship to his credit. Kurt Busch (2004), Keselowski (2012), Harvick (2014), Truex Jr. (2017), Logano (2018), Elliott (2020) and Larson (2021) each have one. That’s it. That’s the list. Combined, that’s nine championships in the Cup Series driver lineup in 2022. Johnson, had seven all by himself.

You’d also notice that a recent theme in the playoff format that we’ve had seven different champions in the eight year era. No longer does the driver with the most wins necessarily take home the title. Just three times in the eight year playoff era format has the driver with the most wins actually won the title in the same season including this season. Kevin Harvick won nine times in 2020 and 13 times over the 2020 and 2019 combined and didn’t take home any championship hardware to show for it. Denny Hamlin also had also won 13 races, two of which being the 2019 and 2020 Daytona 500’s, in the same span and he also is 0-for-2 in championships won since the start of the 2019 season.

It’s all about positioning yourself for the playoffs and getting hot at the right moment. Hamlin did that last year. He was 0-for-26 in the regular season then 2-for-4 to start the postseason.

Also, Harvick, Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are getting more and more company for the Championship 4 spots now too. Prior to 2020, it was basically a shoe in to include this trio and a fourth into the final round. In 2020, neither made it while 2 of the 3 missed out again this season. Last year was just the second time ever that Harvick and Busch each failed to make the Championship 4 as Harvick’s only other year that he didn’t was in 2015 and Busch’s 2014. Truex missed the Championship 4 for the first time since 2016.

Elliott, meanwhile has won 14 times in four years and went from three straight Round of 8 exits to the final round and a championship in 2020 and in 2021.

Joey Logano, has two Championship 4 appearances (2018, 2020) in four years and Round of 8 (2019, 2021) in the other two. Hamlin has three final round appearance in as many years. Ryan Blaney showed flashes of speed in 2020 and 2021 with him now having made the Round of 8 in 3 of the last 5 years. Alex Bowman and William Byron are improving while Kyle Larson is a true threat now.

The past years of Busch, Harvick and Truex being a Sharpie to the Championship 4 are gone. It’s why NASCAR is more wide open than ever before with a changing of the guard occurring.

One could make a case that Elliott, Larson, Byron, Bowman, Logano and Blaney are here to stay.

From new tracks, to new dates for those said tracks, to new look race weekends, to a new car with new number placement to this new playoff format that was adopted in 2017, to stage racing, etc, NASCAR is further shifting further from the past and more into the future.

“The first time I had the opportunity to do this was in 2018 in Miami,” Phelps said Friday at Phoenix Raceway during his fourth end-of-season session with reporters. At that particular point, the sport was going through some challenges, some headwinds, right? Those were real. I think we felt that.

“I remember using the phrase that our best days are ahead. I’m not sure everyone in this room or folks around the country, (or the) world, believed that to be true. I did. I think the results that we have seen are more than encouraging. I’m very proud of them, right?

“It really took an industry coming together in order to make that happen. It took race teams, our broadcast partners, our sponsors, tracks that we own or tracks that we don’t own, that all came together to create an opportunity for our sport to grow, which is exactly what’s happening.”

Emblematic of that growth is the continuity of NASCAR’s presence on television, a reflection of the sanctioning body’s agility in completing a full 36-race 2020 NASCAR Cup Series schedule despite the complications of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are the most stable sport on television since 2018,” Phelps asserted. “No other sport—none—can match what NASCAR has done from a stability standpoint with our ratings. If you consider our share numbers since 2019 in our Cup Series, it’s up 18 percent, which is hard to do at this point. It’s just hard.

“Then you look at our ratings for Xfinity and our Camping World Truck Series, they’re up double-digits. The share in both of those series is up 25 percent to 30 percent. We are having a moment as a sport. It’s important that we keep it going, which is exactly what we’re going to do.”

A Return To Practice And Qualifying

The teams and drivers will get more on track time in 2022 with NASCAR bringing back practice and qualifying. The thing is, it’s still not going to look how it did pre COVID. We’re not going to get three separate practice sessions and qualifying each weekend. There’s going to be drastically less.

Once we went back to racing at Darlington in May of 2020, NASCAR shifted away from the use of both practice and qualifying. With just trying to get the season not only restarted, but to get the full completion of it in after, they needed to make adjustments.

So, out went practice and qualifying for a number of reasons. Some of the main points were to eliminate the need of a backup car. Without that, you don’t need to bring as many people to the track anymore. That cuts down exposure between person-to-person contact. It also helps cut that down in the shop without the needs for crew members to prepare that said backup car back in the North Carolina shops before two cars hit the road on a hauler.

Plus, by eliminating practice and qualifying, you save the cost of hotel rooms and food for these teams. Single day shows mean they can fly in the day of the race and fly out after.

That in turn helps the budgets in the sense you prepare less cars, save money on parts, save money on the use of fuel and tires that you don’t need as much of, save on lodging and travel and can create less manpower on the road and back in the shops.

31 of the 32 races a year ago didn’t have qualifying. The only one that did was the Coca-Cola 600. All but eight races this season had practice and qualifying. The only ones that did was the Daytona 500, the season finale in Phoenix and all the new events that we’ve not yet been to before.

Now, we’ll go back to the way it used to be but only sort of. NASCAR has proven that these teams don’t need a lot of practice or qualifying to put on a good show. In fact, without it, it’s helped the racing in the sense that these big teams aren’t getting a ton of on track time prior to dial their cars in before the race. They’re having to adjust on the fly.

By virtue of that, simulators are being used to help with setups. Teams have found that even those aren’t truly accurate and sometime you just unload off. That’s helped create passing in the sense that not every week that you see every car nail the setup.

But, with a new car that’s going to drastically change the way that you race and with all past notebooks being shredded, NASCAR has allowed teams to practice and qualify again. This time, it’s just not as much time as before in order to save budgets.

SHR/JGR Needing To Solidify Futures While Hendrick Motorsports Is Now And The Future

The big teams are the big teams for a reason, but if Stewart-Haas Racing wants to get back to the front again and Joe Gibbs Racing doesn’t want to drop down like SHR or Hendrick Motorsports did, they each need to solidify their futures.

I mean HMS went through some lean years in trying to carve their path back up. Now, they’re the top team in the sport again and all four drivers are going to be 29 years of age or younger. To see what they’ve done, you truly have to rewind back to the early 90s to really appreciate where they started, where they are and where they came from to get back here.

Rick Hendrick has an eye for talent. In 1992, he discovered and signed a young USAC star that didn’t have enough money for an Indy Car seat. This young brazen kid was a Ford development driver, but Hendrick swooped in and took him Cup racing. He saw what he did in a Busch race in Atlanta and signed him 48 hours later.

That kid?

Jeff Gordon.

Gordon, made his first career Cup start on Nov. 15, 1992. That was Richard Petty’s final NASCAR start. The “kid” would pan out just fine. Four championships and 93 race wins later, Gordon goes down as one of the best to ever race a stock car.

In 2000, Hendrick found another budding young star. He wasn’t necessarily tearing up the track in the Busch Series, but Hendrick and Gordon figured this guy deserved a chance. For the 2002 season, in came a guy named Jimmie Johnson.

Seven championships and 83 wins later, Johnson, like Gordon, will go down as one of the all-time greats.

Last year in this very race, Johnson, made his final Cup start at the Phoenix Raceway. It was a day that another driver that Hendrick found won his first career championship. That kid?

Chase Elliott.

A year ago, Elliott, became the third youngest NASCAR champion ever at the age of 24. But, you had to rewind to a decade ago for this relationship to take shape. Hendrick, got a tip from a friend, a former NASCAR owner, about this second generation driver tearing up dirt tracks around the Southeast.

After witnessing it, Hendrick decided to call this kid (Elliott) and his dad (Bill Elliott) over to North Carolina to chat. He signed that kid. Hendrick, gave Elliott a contract at 14 years old. Now, that 14 year old is 24 and a NASCAR champion.

“I won’t name any names at our company, but I think a lot of people thought I was nuts,” Hendrick said last year of the Elliott signing. “No, you see a kid like that…  Actually James Finch told me, Have you seen Chase Elliott drive?And I said, No. He said, Man, he’s whipping all these guys on dirt.

“So I started getting some videos, and then I called Bill, and they came down and we talked.

“I just watched him in those late models and then actually saw one of the races he was racing Kyle Busch.  Just the way Bill raised him and what a polished young guy he was and had a lot of talent, I thought, man, he’s just 14 years old so sure want to take a chance if we can.

“You’ve got to find a guy like that early.  And again, I think it was a combination of skill, pedigree and just a sharp young man.”

Elliott, has the pedigree to be a multi time champion now but he gave way to this year’s title to his new teammate.

Kyle Larson.

Rick Hendrick didn’t have to sign Larson. He could have went in any other direction. With Johnson retiring, that seat was coveted. Plus, his team was back out of a longer than normal rebuild for them and on the cusp of being that storied organization again.

Everyone wanted this ride. Instead, Hendrick gave Larson a lifeline.

Larson, was fired from CGR as Chevrolet and all the sponsors distanced themselves from him. His NASCAR future was in limbo. If he wanted to race during a pandemic, it was going to be for smaller dirt teams across the country. The luxurious NASCAR life, well it was gone and there was doubt whether it would ever come back.

So, how in the world did six months later he end up in that Hendrick seat? Especially in a world of so much social unjust. How did he turn all this around into a Cup Series championship in a span of 20 months?

“The thing that impressed me so much about Kyle (Larson) was his heart and the things he was doing above and beyond what he was asked to do,” Hendrick said last year of this signing. “I had to get comfortable with his heart and that he was really sincere. He was not afraid to tell everyone that it was a terrible thing, ‘sorry I did it. I’m going to make it right.”

Hendrick, reached out to Larson after the comments as a friend. See, Hendrick supplied engines for CGR and Larson was a driver there. They knew well of each other.

They didn’t talk racing initially though. Hendrick reaching out to Larson last spring was to just be a moral support to him. He knew who Larson was and felt like when all the world was doing was bashing him, that Larson would need a friend.

It eventually developed into a something bigger as Larson was doing his best to rebuild his reputation off the track and keep winning on dirt tracks in the process. He was dominating on dirt and when he wasn’t racing a Midget or Sprint Car, he was traveling across the country taking diversity courses and learning about the African American culture.

NASCAR eventually reinstated him. He paid his dues and admitted his faults and showed that he’s deserving of a second chance in the sport. Hendrick, still had a ride available. Larson, was the best option.

“I definitely think there’s probably a lot of people out there that have concern about me,” Larson said. “It’s not something that happens overnight. I think it’s something that takes time. I think people as they get to spend more time around me or get to see what I’m doing off the racetrack, outside the race car and get to really learn who I am. I think that’s when the forgiveness will be there and people will have a more open mind to forgive me.

“I know that takes time.”

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 30: NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Rick Hendrick hugs Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Metro Tech Chevrolet, celebrating Hendrick Motorsports’ 269th Cup Series win, the most in NASCAR after Larson won the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 30, 2021 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

To show just how much Hendrick believed in Larson, not only did he sign him, he signed him without a sponsor. In a day and age where it cost millions upon millions to run just one team, Hendrick was willing to do it out of his own pocket.

Larson, started off driving an unsponsored No. 5 Chevrolet for HMS.

“If I presented his case to any sponsor, I would spend a lot of time explaining to them what he did and owning up to the mistake he made and the different person he is,” Hendrick said. I know that’s not going to be easy.”

Larson quickly put last year in the rear view mirror. He had a top 10 in the Daytona 500. He won his fourth start with the team. It led to more success which was a five win regular season including a 26 race championship. After 10 playoff races, he won four more times and is a Cup champion.

That’s two in-a-row for Hendrick with drivers he took chances on. How many more are coming? Johnson and Gordon combined to win 11 titles and 177 races. Is this now Elliott and Larson’s time to shine?

Elliott’s won 13 races, seven of which the last two races. Three of those seven came in the final five weeks of last year, all coming in cutoff races.

“Well, you know, he’s a young guy,” Hendrick said of Elliott. “I think he’s going to win a lot of them.  Seven is a big number, but that’s something to shoot at.

“Chase has shown so much maturity and everything by just winning these races and now the championship at 24 years old.  I think he’s got a lot left in his tank.”

Larson, won nine times this past season alone. He had six wins, 56 top fives and 3,213 laps led in 223 prior starts before joining HMS. In 36 races this season, he had nine wins, 19 top fives and 2,267 laps led.

This could be the next big duo and like the Gordon-Johnson years, Larson-Elliott could be the next pairing to usher in NASCAR’s future. This could be that changing of the guard moment in NASCAR with William Byron and Alex Bowman improving year after year now.

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.

Team Penske has 31 year old Joey Logano a soon to be 28 year old Ryan Blaney and 23 year old Austin Cindric locked in for the future. They also signed 21 year old Harrison Burton with the Wood Brothers and have found the youth wave. They’re here now too.

SHR is halfway there. They’ll have 27 year old Chase Briscoe and soon to be 24 year old Cole Custer in their lineup for 2022. But so will soon to be 46 year old Kevin Harvick and 37 year old who will be 38 next March, Aric Almirola. Briscoe and Custer have combined to score one Cup win with Harvick and Almirola combining to win just one race between them last year too.

A few years ago, SHR had all four drivers in the Round of 8. Three years later, they had none. What’s their future? Harvick only has a few years left then what?

Is Riley Herbst (22) their guy? Is it Hailie Deegan? Who is going to take the leadership role with SHR over once Harvick’s gone and what’s their surrounding cast going to look like?

Similar situation for JGR. Toyota has a different business model and has a plethora drivers of waiting in the wings. But, while their drivers at JGR are operating in their prime the last several years, they’ve also lost a lot of talent to other teams too.

JGR is full again. Kyle Busch (36) isn’t going anywhere. Soon to be 41-year old Denny Hamlin and already 41 year old Martin Truex Jr. aren’t either. Why would they? Why would JGR or Toyota want to push them out? All three have contracts in place for the team past this season and I’d expect them to be back not only in 2022 but 2023 as well. So would Christopher Bell. He’s shown to be their future and is going to be 27 in December.

Bubba Wallace will be back with 23XI and he’s only 27. Kurt Busch (43) is in the second car. When Kurt, Truex and Hamlin all retire, Kyle isn’t going to be long after. That leaves Bell and whom?

If they want to avoid that dreaded decline in stats, you have to have a plan now.

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