NASHVILLE, Tenn. –
Hendrick Motorsports is the winning team in NASCAR – classic car versions of the Lakers or Celtics, perhaps the New York Yankees of motorsport.
Rick Hendrick has built a beast of an organization since he joined NASCAR in 1984. The team was called All-Star Racing and Geoff Bodine was his driver, but Hendrick got to the Daytona 500 without Donors.
Bodine only got the ride because he happened to be stopping by Hendrick’s premier City Chevrolet dealership looking for a NASCAR ride the very day Tim Richmond arrived to tell the fledgling team if he wanted the job. Richmond was only offered the seat because the deal between Hendrick and Richard Petty broke down.
In the 37 years since, Hendrick Motorsports has become the winning team in NASCAR history. HMS in May surpassed the record 268 Cup wins held by the Petty Enterprises empire, and the organization is now celebrating its record-long 14th Cup Series championship with Kyle Larson’s first title.
There are similarities with this year’s championship and the first season in 1984. Both times, Hendrick gambled and did his bidding. He had no sponsor in 1984 but was willing to sponsor Bodine himself – a plan that worked until Hendrick was just about to break just five races in the season.
Hendrick was trending towards relegation until Bodine prevented the closure with a win at Martinsville Speedway. Hendrick let Northwestern Security Life put its logo on the car for free, and the company agreed to sponsor the remainder of the season after the Martinsville win.
HMS is now 280 Cup winners and the 14th title goes to Larson, who was given a second chance at NASCAR this year when Hendrick ended Larson’s nearly year-long banishment for using a profanity about him. race.
Hendrick again had no sponsor, once again had to buy the car out of his own pocket and was ready to seize the opportunity. He knew Larson – the so-called “next Jeff Gordon” – would do well when he was given fast racing cars. He did not expect the results to be so spectacular.
“Do I think he can win 10 races and win the championship?” Hendrick said. “I mean, I think he’ll be fast. I thought the team would be good. But I do not know. ”
Larson took 10 points in the race, the $1 million All-Star race, broke Jeff Gordon’s 20-year record for most laps in the lead in a season, and pretty much dominated the competition. whole year. Hendrick’s organization as a whole improved, combined for 18 wins.
All four of Hendrick’s drivers made it to the knockout round; Larson and Chase Elliott, the 2020 champions, both advanced to the four-winner final.
Hendrick will be held this week in Nashville during NASCAR’s annual year-end celebration, his first chance to claim the Cup in five years. He received the championship trophy for the last time in 2016, the seventh and final title of the record for Jimmie Johnson.
That championship was one last hurdle before driver Hendrick stumbled.
A painful rebuild to replace retired superstars Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr led HMS to leave HMS with a youthful Johnson roster and slowed down by mediocre cars. The four-car team went three years without winning a single driver to reach the final four of the four championships, and it wasn’t until 2020 and Johnson’s last NASCAR race that Elliott ended a hot streak. end of the season to win his first Cup.
There’s no party for Elliott’s championship because of COVID-19, so it’s not until Thursday at the Music City Center that Hendrick will personally go get another Cup.
Of course, Hendrick is a car salesman and he knows a theft when he sees one.
His Chevrolets made a quick comeback this season and his young roster started to blossom. And as expected, Larson won when he got into the car fast. So many, so much.
Initially, he was uncensored and it took half a season before Hendrick offered both the full-time sponsor and Larson an extension until 2023. The sponsor was HendrickCars.com, the clearing company. except for all Hendrick dealers.
But that doesn’t make the amount any less realistic, and the stalls at Hendrick Automotive consider Larson a worthy outburst from its marketing budget.
The end result was a full-blown celebration for Hendrick and his wife, Linda, who watched throughout the season as Larson dominated in the flagship Chevrolet No.5, which is a tribute to the man. their deceased son. Number 5 was Hendrick’s original car number, used by Bodine in the inaugural 1984 season and led to the 1996 Cup championship by Terry Labonte.
It was devoted to Ricky Hendrick, who drove number 5 in 22 Xfinity Series races in 2002 before retiring from racing early. Hendrick’s only son then moved to take charge of the racing empire’s business but was killed in 2004 along with nine others when their plane headed for the Martinsville Freeway crashed into a mountain in Virginia. Ricky Hendrick was then 24 years old.
The number 5 was unused from 2017 to 2020, then brought back this year when Larson joined the team. The car is stylized and often painted in memory of Hendrick’s late son.
“My wife and I, when we watched that car race, it just did something for us, in tribute to our son, the numbers, the colors,” Hendrick said. “I love that color. I love that car. So it’s very, very special to be able to win that and celebrate his colors, shirt numbers and life. “