By Cole Cusumano
All eyes were on Hendrick Motorsports at the conclusion of the Drydene 400 after a statement win coupled with sheer domination. It seemed only fitting in the first race at Dover International Speedway since Jimmie Johnson’s retirement the No. 48 would end up victorious, but what transpired in Delaware goes far beyond one-single performance.
For the first time in the organization’s 37-year history, Hendrick Motorsports had all four cars occupy the top-4 spots — an accomplishment that hasn’t been achieved since Roush Fenway Racing since 2005. Additionally, throughout the 400-lap event, the Chevrolet stable paced all but 19 circuits.
Talks of Hendrick Motorsports reclaiming their prominence as one of the most prestigious team can now be put to rest with the compilation of continued success in 2021 hitting its peak in Dover. According to team owner Rick Hendrick, these results can be measured by two things: work ethic and camaraderie.
“There’s nothing that beats teamwork,” Hendrick said following his team’s historic outing. “You’re stronger together. That’s been my philosophy on the automobile side and the racing side. It’s all about people. I don’t care what kind of business you’re in, it’s people that make the difference.
“I think the future is really bright for us. I’m extremely happy and proud of all the guys. It was a great day for the organization.”
It was Alex Bowman who took the racing world by surprise in becoming the second repeat winner of 2021, while doing something he’s never done in his NASCAR career: win multiple races in one season.
While consistency hasn’t been their strong suit, the speed and heart have been there. The No. 48 team rallied with blistering pit stops, putting them in position for the victory. After having the tall task of filling in for two of the most respected figures in the sport, it seems like Bowman is rounding into shape and establishing himself as a force at the premier level.
“I don’t think there’s one thing you can pinpoint,” Bowman said. “I think it’s everybody in the whole shop working super well together, all four race teams working well together. Marshall Carlson (HMS Team President) is doing a really good job kind of getting everybody together. Chad Knaus (HMS Vice President of Competition) is doing a really good job of taking lead in the shop.
“From the top down, Jeff Andrews (HMS Executive Vice President and General Manager) has a big part in everything, the four crew chiefs, all the way to guys that sweep the floor at night. It’s a team effort. Everybody is all in. It’s a good atmosphere right now.”
In the end, it was Kyle Larson who led a race-high 263 laps, but failed to close it out once again. This was the fourth time in 2021 where the driver of the No. 5 paced the field the most circuits, yet the third he couldn’t translate it to a victory.
It’s sad to say this is becoming an unfortunate trend for Larson in terms of dominating and failing to get the win, but he isn’t getting too down on himself after earning the opportunity at a second chance in the sport. Although falling short once again, he picked up his series-leading sixth stage victory and advanced to fifth in the standings.
Larson was able to take solace in defeat after the team outing for Hendrick Motorsports and revealed his astonishment towards the overall enthusiasm from everyone working in the organization and the exciting period for the team they’re part of.
“I find that crazy to think because you look at all the races that Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, they’ve had multiple powerhouse drivers at one time on their team,” Larson said. “For them to be saying this is the most excited they’ve ever been is pretty unreal to me when we’ve got four young guys in the sport who haven’t really won many races, compared to the guys that used to be there before us.
“I think maybe he’s saying a little bit of the future is what gets everybody really excited there. Just an awesome day for the organization. Glad I could be a part of it.”
Rounding out the fourth-spot today was William Byron, who’s putting together one of the most consistent seasons in Hendrick Motorsports’ history. Since winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the driver of the No. 24 has strung together an 11-race top-10 streak and sits second in the standings.
Like Larson, Byron is hungry for more victories, but knows their time is coming soon.
“For us to finish 1-2-3-4 is just a credit to a lot of great people at the shop,” Byron said. “For us, it’s been going for a while. We’ve just got to get a little bit. It sucks to be fourth, but I think we’re close. We just have to work on some things on our car, get the right feels, but we’re getting really close. We’ve had two fourth-place finishes in a row. We’ll take it and move on.”
Overshadowed by his teammates, Chase Elliott is the lone driver at Hendrick Motorsports without a win. Having been placed under a microscope, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series Champion’s strong season has been marred by sky-high expectation failing to come to fruition.
Currently riding a three-race top-10 streak and having a combined seven on the year, it hasn’t been a bad season by any means for Elliott. It’s just unexpected for the series-Champion to be the last driver without a win for the organization, but the drive has never been in question.
“I just think everybody in our company’s really motivated right now, working hard to provide fast cars,” Elliott said. “I feel like everybody is pulling the rope in the same direction. As good or better than it’s ever been since I’ve been there. I think that’s key.”
Hendrick Motorsports is officially back and has fortified their status as the team to beat, along with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. Even though the dominance displayed in Dover, there’s still truly no clear-cut favorite driver or team, but argument can be made for just about any of the Chevrolet crews.
With all four drivers sitting comfortably inside the top-13 in the standings and a combined four wins at the halfway point of the regular season, Hendrick Motorsports has finally asserted themselves as the world-class organization they were not too long ago.