It’s the reality of NASCAR that current performance is not an indicator of future success, but Hendrick Motorsports is on an absolute tear right now.
To that end, executive vice president and general manager Jeff Andrews is already working to sustain this performance deep into the summer and towards the playoffs. After all, who really had Chase Elliott and the No. 9 team taking the championship in a season dominated by the Big Three of Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.
Kyle Larson won the third time this season on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. It was the fourth consecutive 1-2 finish for Hendrick Motorsports, which has won seven times in 16 starts, a streak that has also vaulted Rick Hendrick to first place on the all-time Cup Series wins list as an owner.
All four drivers have won this season, and they’ve done it on every type of track, dominating this season across both rule package configurations.
“One of the things that I think means the most to us, what’s going on right now, is the consistency we have across the organization,” Andrews said. “The way we’ve been able to put that across four race teams — get that performance on a weekly basis.
“Then obviously, as you mentioned, across many different track types, aero configurations, engine power configurations. That’s something for us that we worked on a long time at Hendrick Motorsports.”
Historically, it wasn’t totally uncommon for Hendrick Motorsports to have three of four cars running at a high level. It became something of a joke that the fourth car was the R&D car.
Most recently, Hendrick hasn’t been considered the elite in the same way Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske were. Even last year, the organization was on that tier just below, needing a hot streak from Elliott and the No. 9 team to win the championship.
Elliott has become a mainstay at the team, but the entire competition roster was full of new faces or young guns in William Byron and Alex Bowman. Chad Knaus left shortly after Jimmie Johnson, Cliff Daniels taking over as crew chief for Johnson in his final two seasons, and now spearheading the effort for Larson.
It took a couple of seasons for these new additions to gel.
“It’s an interesting mix,” Andrews said. “There’s some young people obviously at the front of it. There’s some very young guys in drivers’ seats. You take people like Cliff Daniels who really have come up through our company and you put those folks in key positions, and that’s great to see. Obviously very rewarding, gives you some good confidence about your future, as well.
“As I started to say, there’s some great youth up front, but there’s also a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge and depth in folks behind the scenes that are working really hard to get these great race cars to the track.”
Andrews says Jeff Gordon has worked with Hendrick to determine the best drivers fits. Meanwhile, Knaus has settled into an instrumental role as competition director.
“Obviously, Chad Knaus is a great asset to any organization, whatever position that he works in,” Andrews said. “When you take someone of his depth and his experience in racing, I think I talked a few minutes ago about the youth on the front side of our company, then on the back side you have key guys that have done so much in this sport and are so knowledgeable about a race car that come back into our race shops, and started working closely with our race teams, our crew chiefs, and our guys in the shop.
“Just doing a tremendous job. I mean, I can’t say enough about the role that Chad’s taken on, what he’s been doing. Without question it’s contributed to our success so far this year.”
Larson, Elliott and Byron are second, third and fourth in the championship standings. Bowman is 11th but has two wins and the third most playoff points this season … not that this matters come September and the playoffs.
“That’s our main focus right now, for sure,” Andrews said. “To make sure that we keep our heads down. Certainly, you have great weeks like we had last weekend where you need as a company to take a little bit of time with your folks, after Dover (after a 1-2-3-4 finish), and get together and take a picture.
“Celebrate a little bit. It’s been so hard in this environment that we’ve all been living in in the last year. There really probably hasn’t been enough celebration, enough rewards going on for the folks. So, we need to take a little bit of time and soak all this in and make sure the folks are celebrating a little bit, enjoying it.
“But we’ve got to keep working because other teams, I promise you, are working very, very hard right now. Our folks are as well. I’m not saying that we’re not, but we’ve got to keep that focus going forward here. And we obviously need to be and want to be running like this when we get later on in the season and start advancing through the playoffs.”