I wrote earlier this week that Rick Hendrick needed to get a quick grasp on this Kyle Larson vs Chase Elliott potential drama before it got out of control.
See, Hendrick Motorsports was very open to the fact last year that a large part of their new found success was a new culture that was being established within their North Carolina walls. While they had four separate teams within the organization, they would operate as one.
One team, one goal. One for all. No moving pieces in opposite direction. HMS wasn’t the 5 team (Kyle Larson), the 9 team (Chase Elliott), the 24 team (William Byron) and the 48 team (Alex Bowman). They were one.
Unfortunately, all that mantra was being threatened by a run-in last Sunday between Larson and Elliott at Fontana. Towards the end of the race, Elliott had a run on Larson and Joey Logano for the lead and while Larson was moving to side draft Logano coming across the finish line, he moved up to break the air and push him forward. While doing so, he inadvertently pushed Elliott into the wall.
Larson says that he didn’t know Elliott was there. His spotter even took the blame in saying he was focused on Logano and didn’t alert Larson that Elliott was outside until it was too late. Elliott, wasn’t very happy with Larson and rightfully so.
HMS officials and Larson said then that they’d all sit down with Elliott and his team to clear the air. Sounds like that happened and the big boss man led the talks.
“Rick called a meeting with all four teams and just kind of reiterated his expectations with us drivers, so it’s good to get those reminders every now and then,” Larson said Saturday from Las Vegas.
“We’ll continue to race good in the future with each other, so I’ll catch up more with Chase here in a little bit and we’ll be good.”
He said that they didn’t get to meet in person, but it was the first time since he’s been at HMS that Hendrick himself led the meeting.
“(Hendrick’s) been to competition meetings and stuff like that, and we’ve had multiple meetings about different things,” Larson said. “But as far as racing and stuff, that’s the first one I can remember him getting involved in.
“I think we all know his expectations and after the incident last weekend, it was good for him to get involved again and tell us what the expectations are.”
That’s good because until they all talked HMS wasn’t operating as one team. There’s separation there. All the focus on Vegas prep was being interrupted by this. Discussions and meetings are being had to address it which that time could be spent preparing for Vegas.
It’s a distraction and one that the quicker they can move on and have no ill wills towards each other, the quicker HMS gets back to 2021’s success.
The 2021 season was extra special with what the Hendrick Motorsports organization was able accomplish. They took home their second straight championship via Larson’s triumph in Phoenix. It was their 17th win of the season.
Hendrick Motorsports’ second-most in a single season and third-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present). 2021 was 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 last 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.”
They led the fifth-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972)-Present); but set a new Hendrick Motorsports team record that stood for 12 years (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 33 finishes inside the top two; most in the Modern Era (since 1972), scored 83 top-10 finishes; the team’s second-most (84 in 2007, 82 in 2012), posted 55 top-five finishes; the team’s second-most (57 in 2007) and won 28 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 53 postseason wins, most all-time.
Look this isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last time teammates get into each other. In fact, this is the second straight week.
In the final lap of the Daytona 500, it was Austin Cindric vs. Ryan Blaney. Same thing happened in the final lap of the 2021 Daytona 500 between Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
“When you’re married to somebody, you have to figure it out,” Logano said last year of he and Keselowski talking about Daytona. “You’re married. You don’t just leave. You get married, it’s supposed to be forever. And so, when you have conflict or differences of opinion, you have to talk about it. You can’t just roll it up under the rug. It’s not going to work. It’s not healthy. It’s kind of the situation here.
“I will be forced, and he will be forced to work with me. We’re still teammates. We will have to figure this out. We may not have to agree on everything, but we at least have to find a way to move forward, and that is going to be the approach we need to do because going back to the 400 men and women who work at Team Penske, we owe it to them to figure this out and we will fix it. It’s fine. Like I said, you can look at this thing three different ways, and there are going to be six different opinions on how the last few laps went, and depending on what seat you’re in, you would pick differently.”
Logano noted last February that they didn’t talk until the next weekend. That was by design. He said that it’s best to cool your jets before meeting about it. You don’t want to meet and let things boil over still and say things you don’t mean and let this carry on further.
“It’s maybe not what needs to be said, but what is the goal moving forward,” Logano said. “The goal is to move on and not say, ‘You raced me hard, so I’m going to race you hard’ and now we’re going to beat the doors off each other and it grows and grows and grows and grows.
“That’s the goal that you can’t have. You can’t seek revenge or just, ‘Well, you made my life hard, so I’m going to make your life hard.’ That’s childish. We’re adults. We’re not doing that. I’m not going to do that for a multiple of reasons. … If you do that, it’s the most selfish thing you can do because you’re not just hurting yourself or hurting him, you’re hurting all the people that work on that car and what did they do to you? They’re the same people that work on my car by the way, so it’s a matter of just saying how do we move forward, not you did this, you did this, you did this.
“It’s, ‘OK, that’s that.’ Start at zero. Clean slate. Never to bring up anything that’s happened six months ago, a year ago, five years ago. If you want to talk about it, that is the time. The best time to talk about it, bring it up, be honest, get it off your chest. If you need to get it of your chest because it makes you feel better, good. That’s going to be healthy, but after that it’s never being brought up again. Never. It’s got to start at zero.”
Logano said prior to the Busch Light Clash that the way this new car is and the situations that NASCAR is making with formats, track sizes, downforce levels, etc, is creating more of these tense moments on track for their to be more and more run ins with drivers.
“There are moments on the race track that test your character,” he said. ‘It tests who you are and how you want to race and what are you going to do to win a championship now.
“NASCAR has all put us in a position to make challenging decisions on what is right. I’ll be 100% honest with you, I don’t even know what’s right. You try to play out all the scenarios in your mind before the weekend starts so you know what to do in the moment, but half the time, it’s something that comes up of maybe something that you didn’t think about or maybe you didn’t have the answer to yet but you’re forced to make a decision in a split second. That’s what we have to think about.
“That’s also very entertaining for you guys. That sucks for us sometimes. You just got to do what you’ve got to do. It’s something all of us drivers think about a lot.”
Logano says though in wake of these potential pitfalls, that you have to treat it like you would if you were the one on the other side of the coin.
“You have to be consistent,” he says. “What’s consistent? I’m going to win. I’m out there to win the race. That’s the goal and you do what it takes to do that. But, you have to have your moral code and know what is okay to do that. Is it dumping somebody is okay to win a race? I don’t think so. That’s not really in my cards. Now, bump-and-run? I’ve proven that I think that’s okay. The facts are that you have to be okay with that happening to you. Am I okay with being wrecked? No. Am I okay with being moved out of the way? I don’t have to be happy about it but I have to be okay with it if I’m going to do it. I feel like that should be the code. Whatever your happy with being done by you have to have be okay with it if it was someone else.”