Hendrick Motorsports has always been one of NASCAR’s top team. No one has as many wins (291) or championships (14) than this storied franchise. But, a few years ago, they were in the midst of a rebuild. Jeff Gordon retired after the 2015 season. Jimmie Johnson won his 7th title a year later however, but that was the beginning of his fall. Kasey Kahne wasn’t cutting it and Dale Earnhardt Jr. started battling concussions. Factor in a young rookie for 2016 in Chase Elliott and you get the start of a rebuild.
From 2017-2019, HMS had 11 wins, 61 top 5 finishes and 2,527 laps led across 108 races.
35 wins, 119 top 5 finishes and 8,427 laps led in 107 races. They’ve won the last two NASCAR Cup Series championships and has Chase Elliott back in the final round for the third consecutive year. Kyle Larson is back too, however on just the owners side.
In a weird set of circumstances, Larson is still in on one side and out on the other. Still, it’s a rare feat that HMS could score championships in both points with two different drivers in a comeback that shows that HMS not only is back, their future is as bright as ever before.
“Well, you know, every year you start, you want to race for the championship, and we’ve had a great year,” Rick Hendrick said on Tuesday afternoon ahead of this weekend’s season finale. “We’ve won 11 races.
“It’s that time of year when you go to Phoenix and see what you can do. Thankfully we’ve got two opportunities, one to win the drivers’ championship and the other the owners’.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought battle. There are four really good teams and four great drivers. Anything can happen when you go out there in a one-race deal.
“We’re excited to have the opportunity. It’s always tough to get there, and if you’ve got a car that’s able to compete there, you’re very fortunate.
“We’re excited about the weekend.”
Hendrick joked that he’s going to be broke if Elliott wins the drivers championship but Larson doesn’t win the owners but it’s not necessarily a bad problem to have though either.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he says. “But yeah, it’s going to be interesting to watch and try to figure out where we are.
“Hey, both guys want to win, and it would be really neat if we could run one-two. But hey, we’re just going to go out and do our best and we’ll see what happens.
“In an ideal situation is if we could go out and run one-two and get them both. But when Kyle got knocked out, I never thought about the owners’ championship at that point, and then he won the race in Homestead and that qualified him.
“Then when Chase was bumped out of being able to run for the owners’ championship, then all of a sudden we’ve got a shot to win it with two cars, win owners’ and drivers’.
“We’re not going to approach the race any different than we have any week. Both cars are going to try to win. We’ll just go out and do the best we can and see where it all ends up.
“We’re going to try to race to win with both cars. That’s the plan.”
Elliott has made it to at least the Round of 8 every year (6 years). He’s eyeing his second championship in three years at that and will only be 27 later this month. Larson is 2-for-2 in the final round in the owners race. He’s won 13 times in 71 starts for HMS. He’s only 30.
Alex Bowman has 5 wins in two years and is just 29. William Byron had another break out year in marching to the Round of 8 with scoring 4 wins in 3 years including a pair in 2022. He’s only 24 and will be 25 soon.
With Jeff Gordon and Chad Knaus in place to run the office and competition side for the future, Elliott, Byron and Larson locked in for several years down the road, HMS is back and are back in a big way.
This all comes after a 2021 season that was extra special with what the Hendrick Motorsports organization was able accomplish. They earned 17 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 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 last year 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. 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.”
They also last year 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 18 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 54 postseason wins, most all-time.
Can Elliott give them another drivers championship on Sunday after only having two Top-10 finishes in the last 10 weeks?
“You know, he’s won five races, and he’s had some situations where the car wasn’t as good as we thought it would be, and he was frustrated,” Hendrick said.
“But it’s one of those deals that just put all that behind you. You run good at Phoenix, you’ve won that race, you’ve won the championship there. So just go back, the car is going to be good and do your job.
“He’s excited. He’s ready. We’ll just put any of the bad luck or inconsistencies we’ve had leading up to this race behind us because it’s all about Sunday.”
Hendrick praises Elliott in his approach and that he never plays the blame game with anyone but himself even in situations to where he can.
“Yeah, Chase, if you’ve watched him, he’s always put the burden on himself,” Hendrick says. “When Chase Elliott can’t drive a car because we missed the setup, that’s not his fault. But he will never, ever, ever point a finger at the team. He always takes it on himself.
“I’ve talked to him a lot about it. I think he just feels like he can carry it; if he doesn’t, he’s failed. I admired that about him to a certain point. I see so many drivers get out and blame the car for everything, and he will never do that.
“But his confidence is high, and I think he’s so competitive, he just wants to be there for the team and the organization and for himself. He knows how good he is.
“And I’ve talked to him several times this week. He’s ready for this race. He wants to win another championship, and Alan is burning up to win another one, too.
“I think once he gets out of the car, you’re seeing just a little bit of frustration on where they’ve finished rather than — he’s just disappointed. But he does carry a lot of the load that he doesn’t need to carry.”