Dontre Graves | NASCAR Digital Media

Friendly competition among Hendrick Motorsports drivers breeds more winning

CONCORD, N.C. — For the past three weeks, it’s been Hendrick Motorsports versus the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series field.

Team owner Rick Hendrick celebrated a record-breaking 269th Cup Series victory — surpassing Petty Enterprises on the all-time list — with Kyle Larson’s win in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His other three drivers, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott, filled four of the top-five finishing positions. Hendrick drivers have now won the past three Cup Series races, beginning with Bowman’s win at Dover International Speedway.

Elliott backed up his first victory of the 2021 season at Circuit of The Americas with a second-place finish in the 600-mile Memorial Day weekend classic. The defending series champion feels all four drivers are maximizing opportunities because those moments are fleeting at NASCAR’s highest level.

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“This is a sport that comes in waves,” Elliott said. “It’s a roller coaster. There’s going to be good times, there’s going to be bad times. I hope we’re always this good and always this competitive, but I think the law of averages would tell you that that’s not going to last forever, so I think we all want to try to take advantage of the opportunities that we have right now as a company and continue to challenge ourselves to be better because our competitors are getting better, they’re pushing harder.”

One of those competitors, Kyle Busch, made it a point to call out Hendrick Motorsports’ recent rise, who broke up the organization’s party at the top on Sunday night with a third-place finish. Busch radioed to his crew after the race, noting that the Hendrick dominance should be a cause for concern.

But what have been the keys to the Chevrolet brigade’s success? Two-time 2021 race winner Bowman feels part of that answer is Chad Knaus in his new role as competition director.

“The four of us, we’re all somewhat quiet,” Bowman said after finishing fifth at Charlotte. “We’re all pretty quiet for the most part, so Chad leads the meetings for the most part more than he ever has. I think that’s really the biggest vibe change in the meetings I see is being led strictly by Chad instead of Chad in there as a crew chief.”

For Larson, those competition meetings with Knaus are a time for all four drivers to show camaraderie and lay everything on the table.

“I think at least for me, and I think all of us teammates are like this, I think we’re pretty open with each other,” Larson said. “I don’t think any of us hide anything. I know I don’t. I’m not afraid to ask — I don’t know anything about cars, but I’m not afraid to ask somebody why they’re driving like this or how that helped them, and they’ve asked me the same questions, and I give them a 100% honest answer.

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“I think when you’re honest with each other and want to help each other out, it just makes the whole program better. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in being a good teammate, and I think my other three teammates are the same way.”

Byron, who finished fourth at his home track Sunday night and earned victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this year, is enjoying the friendly competition amongst his teammates this year. The drive to beat each other on the race track stems from the willingness to help each other within the walls of the organization’s campus down the street from Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The No. 24 driver has also scored 12 top 10s in the last 13 races.

“It’s maybe more competitive than racing against the other guys because I feel like we know we’ve got the tools and the resources inside,” Byron said. “It’s just about racing the other drivers (at Hendrick), the other cars, the crew chiefs racing each other. It becomes very competitive, which breeds even more winning I feel like. I love it. You wake up knowing you have an opportunity to win.”

While Hendrick drivers are relishing in their peak performance as of late, Elliott warned they shouldn’t lose sight on what’s ahead of them.

“We need to make sure we’re not just happy with where we are, we’ve got to get better, too,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to push, because May isn’t … that’s not when we hand out the big trophy. We need to make sure we’re on our game when it counts.”