Hometowner Hendrick Looking Good In Charlotte

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 30 2021

Hall of Fame team owner Rick Hendrick and driver Jeff Gordon. Hendrick has a great shot at the 600 today. (Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. – Hendrick Motorsports needed four years after making its debut to acquire its first NASCAR Cup win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but once it found the key to victory lane it staked a claim on the track’s hallowed ground. 

Since acquiring its first victory at the speedway in May 1988 with three-time NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip, Hendrick Motorsports has totaled 20 Cup wins at the 1.5 mile track and two on the 2.280-mile ROVAL. It also owns two Xfinity Series and eight All-Star victories at the speedway. From 2003 through 2005, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson won five of six Charlotte races, including four straight. 

The Hendrick Motorsports campus is located less than five miles from the 61-year-old speedway and this year its four drivers roll into the facility for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 on a hot streak that could add another Charlotte trophy to the organization’s collection.

 Two weeks ago at Dover Alex Bowman emerged the victor while his three teammates took positions two through four. Last weekend, Chase Elliott claimed the inaugural NASCAR Cup race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Elliott’s victory tied Hendrick Motorsports with Petty Enterprises at 268 wins. A victory in the Coca-Cola 600 would make Hendrick the sport’s winningest organization.

“Anytime you can put a company in the same sentence as Richard Petty Motorsports, it’s a special thing and he should be very proud of that,” Elliott said about Hendrick.  

For team owner Rick Hendrick the road to 268 victories hasn’t been an easy one. In fact, Hendrick had plans to shut down the operation in April 1984 due to a lack of sponsorship, but then Geoffrey Bodine won at Martinsville and he decided to continue.   

“I’ve been through some good times, some bad times, at the top of the mountain, then couldn’t hit our butt,” Hendrick said. “I think the test of a real company is when you get in those lows, you don’t point fingers and you don’t jump ship; you just work.”

In qualifying Saturday at Charlotte, Hendrick drivers captured three of the top-five starting positions. Kyle Larson snared the pole with a 180.282-mph lap. Elliott clocked in third at 180.186-mph lap, followed by teammate William Byron at 180.180 mph. Bowman qualified seventh at 179.730 mph.

However, there is more than performance involved in Hendrick’s resurgence. There is a relationship, a respect among the four drivers and their teams that probably has never existed throughout the company. It could be because of the drivers’ closeness in age. All of the drivers are younger than 30 with the average age being 26. Larson will celebrate his 29th birthday in July and he’s the group’s veteran. Byron is the youngest. He won’t celebrate his 24th birthday until November. 

Then there was the promotion of Chad Knaus from long-time crew chief to vice president of competition. Chevrolet also told Hendrick and Richard Childress Racing that it wanted the two engine departments to collaborate. Until the changes late last year, Hendrick appeared to have lost its competitive edge, recording 14 victories in the last three seasons. When Elliott claimed his Cup title last year it was the first time since 2016 that Hendrick had celebrated a championship. Now, the tweaking of Hendrick’s competitive structure appears to have paid off.

“It’s a lot of really smart minds working together,” Byron said about the current situation. “I think we have four really good crew chiefs right now and we’ve got Chad in the mix with that. I feel like the teams are doing a really good job of dissecting SIM and understanding how the car needs to be setup, just giving us a car that we can all work with. If we do hit the balance right, we have the speed and we have the pace and that is awesome.”

 Elliott noted there were  “a lot of people in the garage that know what it takes to go fast it’s just a matter of implementing it and when you learn something new being able to get it into the race cars and get it to the track.”

 “When you’re dealing with big companies like HMS it’s hard to make things happen, make them happen fast and get to the race track in a timely manner,” Elliott continued. “I think Chad has allowed us to kinda steer that ship a little quicker back at the shop.”  


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 30 2021
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