ADVERTISEMENT

Why cross-pollination is working for Hendrick

ADVERTISEMENT

There was a time when seeing a Hendrick Motorsports driver in anything other than his NASCAR Cup Series car was like seeing a four-leaf clover. It was rare to see Rick Hendrick, never the biggest fan of his drivers participating in extracurricular activities, giving his permission for one of them to do so.

Hendrick didn’t want to risk something else distracting or, at worst, injuring his drivers and keeping them from their Sunday jobs. But in recent seasons, that philosophy has changed markedly.

Take the signing of Kyle Larson as an example. Larson has never hidden his love for dirt racing and hopes that whoever competes in NASCAR will give him the freedom to do so. Hendrick did not slow down from his stacked dirt track schedule.

ADVERTISEMENT

Alex Bowman, also a lover of dirt, has continued to not only field a car, but races himself quite frequently. Chase Elliott is racing more short tracks, some dirt, and will make a second appearance in the SRX this year. And William Byron is filling up with state-of-the-art events.

“I absolutely think it’s important to do that,” said Hendrick Motorsports president and general manager Jeff Andrews. “I congratulate [Rick] hendrick and jeff [Gordon] for supporting Kyle and his initiatives. Obviously, he is one of the most talented speed car drivers at the moment. Obviously, Alex has always had an interest in his midget shows and stuff. Alex and Kyle left (Gateway) after our report and headed to the race together.”

However, the time spent competing in other arenas seems to be helping NASCAR. Once again, Hendrick Motorsports has all four of its cars running competitively while the drivers have something that gives them an extra shot.

“Aside from those guys’ experience in racing and the hand-eye coordination stuff, there’s been a link that’s happened there between all four of our guys with their efforts outside of racing,” Andrews said. “Kyle and Alex constantly talk about fast cars or midget stuff on the plane. And seeing Chase get involved. William has been driving late model stuff and winning. It is a good experience for them. It builds their confidence, and we’re happy to support that when they want to.”

The extra seat time has also carried over to NASCAR. Hendrick and Spire Motorsports have worked together to introduce Byron, Bowman (main image), and Elliott in the Camping World Truck Series this season. Bowman came close at the Circuit of the Americas on March 26 and Byron won at Martinsville Speedway.

Additionally, through its partnership with JR Motorsports, a fifth Xfinity Series car is available if needed. Elliott was scheduled to drive the No. 88 car Mother’s Day weekend at Darlington Raceway, but missed the show when rain wiped out qualifying. Byron finished second in the car at Texas Motor Speedway (May 21) and will return to New Hampshire (July 16), while Larson will take it to Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and the fall race at Darlington (Sep. 3). ) .

But taking things a step further, Hendrick Motorsports will roll a car out of its shop for the first time since 2009. The No. 17 Chevrolet will be on the track for the next three races with Larson (July 2 at Road America), Bowman (July 30 at Indianapolis) and Byron (Aug. 20 at Watkins Glen).

“At the end of last year, we weren’t sure what the benefit of Next Gen would be and the relevance to that type of vehicle in the Xfinity Series,” said Andrews. “We went out and ran some races and obviously Alex’s truck experience at COTA and William’s again at Martinsville seemed to pay off for those guys. They felt there was value in doing that.

“As we started to move forward and go to our drivers and ask them to choose where they thought they would like to race on Xfinity, road courses came up on the list very quickly. But JRM had already sold those races for someone else in his fifth car. So we decided to just take that initiative and do it ourselves. I don’t know if we’ll ever do that again. I think if we had to do it over again, we probably would have gone further with JRM and secured the seats in that fifth car.

Regardless of who is fielding the car and in what series these days, it’s less surprising to see a Hendrick Motorsports driver outside the Cup Series garage.

sniloans