By: Ashley McCubbin
Over the past several years, Hendrick Motorsports has been fast when it comes to their superspeedway package for qualifying, and the 2021 Daytona 500 was no different.
The organization led by Rick Hendrick has placed a car on the pole for the event over the past seven years (if you include Stenhouse Jr. running a HMS engine last season) now, including in 2021 with Alex Bowman. In fact, the driver of the No. 48 Ally Racing Chevrolet has made it a habit of being on the front row, having done so now four consecutive times.
Crew Chief Greg Ives equates the team’s success to one simple decision – a choice to focus on qualifying with the impound in-place, rather than a perfect car for the Bluegreen Vacation Duels.
“For the Daytona 500 for us it’s a marquee race that you want to get the pole,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “There’s obviously a special reason why first and second are locked into the race and don’t have to — I wouldn’t say necessarily worry about the 150s, but you have your starting spot, you understand where your pit stall is going to be, you can kind of perfect and get a calm and understanding of where you have to get in the box, get out, and maybe that tenth of a mile per hour better down pit road is going to help you come out first.
“For us that was a focus, and I’m sure several people are saying, ‘hey, that wasn’t our focus.’ Our focus was to have a car capable of racing three wide in a situation that your tires are going to fall off. Like I said, I felt like we’re going to have plenty of grip tomorrow night. That’s going to — time will tell, right? For us, accomplished the goal that we set out to do, and like I said, that was our focus.”
Ives went on to say the motivation to be the pole sitter comes from wanting to showcase the time and effort put into their superspeedway program over the winter.
“For us, it’s a showcase of — it’s a show car,” he explained. “It’s the pinnacle of the hotrods that we bring out of our race shop, and I know there’s a lot of pride in every piece, every car, just from the paint job all the way down to the last nut and bolt.”
Knowing they are locked into the front row has been reflected in their Duel results over the past three years, with Bowman’s best result being 13th in 2019. While he has paced 23 laps over the past two editions, a conservative approach has been the decision once the race passes halfway.
While recognizing they played the safe route last season in Bowman electing to drop back after seeing a three-wide situation he was not comfortable with, Ives says that’s not their goal entering Thursday.
“We’re going to put ourselves in a situation to lead our Chevy teammates, our Hendrick teammates, whoever is in our Duel, I’m not sure which one, I haven’t seen the results exactly yet, but that’s the goal is to lead that pack. I’m sure we have the speed to do it, we just have to understand the handling,” he commented. “At some point, your car is not going to drive good, and you’ve got to understand that situation and how you’re going to counter it, whether it’s something that Alex will do in the car or some feedback that I can put in the race car to make him better on Sunday.”
For now, though, it allows the No. 48 team to put a smile on their face, and that’s critical as it was a tough off-season for them with both Bryce and Rowdy unfortunately losing their life.
“It’s been a tough deal,” Ives admitted. “I don’t build a team to wrench on cars. I build a team to be a family. I build a team to have heart. I think a lot of heart goes into what we do every week. Why? Because we do it 39 weeks out of the year, and then we have an off-season that we do it again.
“You know, for me I know when the birthdays are of every person on my team. I know their addresses, names, I know who they are personally. You know, and that’s what matters most to me. Like I said, they’re not just a front-end mechanic, they’re not just a tire carrier, they’re people that I want to mentor and grow to be humans that impact life in a greater way than sports and NASCAR. I think that’s one thing that Rowdy was able to do. Not too many people in the garage he probably hasn’t talked to, hasn’t inspired to maybe laugh that day.
“Like I said, it’s been a tough off-season. If it wasn’t for the rest of my teammates around me, Mr. H. He’s incredible, the way he supports the teams, not only in triumph but also in tragedy. He was gracious enough to be there not only by the family’s side but by our side every step of the way and give us meaning to maybe something we wanted to ask questions why. Rowdy is still a big part of our team, a big inspiration. Yeah, it gets emotional. It definitely does. But in this sport you have to have that emotion to succeed.”