With a new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, a revamped driver lineup and restructuring of the physical layout of his organization, team owner Rick Hendrick expected a few bumps in the road in 2018.
What he didn’t expect, however, was a 21-race wait before Hendrick Motorsports broke through for its first win of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series campaign with Sunday’s thriller of a win for Chase Elliott at Watkins Glen International.
“I was getting ready to sweat this year,” Hendrick told NASCAR.com on Thursday, referencing the organization’s streak of 33 consecutive years with a trip to Victory Lane.
But, as the long-time owner pointed out, this drought may have simply been a tribulation through which the team will emerge stronger and more focused on winning and growing as a complete organization from top to bottom.
“It’s that winning attitude, and sometimes going through tough times will make you better,” Hendrick said. “I think we just refused to quit and kept digging and were willing to share, willing to learn and willing to try something different.”
Now that Elliott’s first career win — and that elusive, historic 250th win as an organization — have been secured, the vibe around the shop is tangible and infectious.
“It’s got everybody on their toes celebrating,” Hendrick said. “It’s been a little bit of a drought for us. Just walking around the campus, you see everybody smiling and ringing the victory bell. It’s a real uplifting deal because we’ve kind of struggled this year.
“A win will do a lot for an organization. We’ve had some droughts before, but we’ve also had times where we’ve won four championships back-to-back in the 90s, and five championships with Jimmie and 17 races in a year. But we’ve got a new car, we had a shift in the way we organize our company and putting everybody in one place, all the engineers and crew chiefs. That was a change. …
“I look at where we are now and where we started, and it’s night and day. I feel real good about it, I think we’ve built a foundation for the future and we’ve just gotta keep digging a little bit better every week. That’s our goal.”
With the foundation for the future now in place and trending upward, Hendrick took a moment to reflect on those that laid the bricks for the organization throughout its rich history and humble beginnings.
The history books will deeply show the impact drivers and crew chiefs such as Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have had on Hendrick Motorsports. But when an organization has won with 17 different drivers and 24 different crew chiefs on 26 different tracks, according to Hendrick, surely there will be unsung heroes among them.
“I have to go back to Harry Hyde,” Hendrick said of the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee. “When we started, Harry would tell me ‘Man, if somebody would give me a chance, I could do this.’
“Harry was renting me 5,000 square feet. He was renting me the tools, the gears, transmissions and he only took $500 a week as a crew chief. We had five people when we started and two of them were volunteers. And we won three races that year (1984). Try to do that now. Impossible. I have to give Harry a shout out for being willing to put everything on the line, and then Geoff Bodine, to take a chance and get in the car with an unproven team … If it weren’t for those two guys, we wouldn’t be talking today. There wouldn’t be a Hendrick Motorsports.”
Two hundred and fifty wins later, HMS is among NASCAR’s elite, with a future as bright as it has ever had ahead.
Perhaps it took one intentional step back to recalibrate with all of its fresh changes over the offseason, but it’s starting to pay dividends — Elliott has been among the strongest drivers this summer, and Johnson, Alex Bowman and William Byron appear ready to follow.
As it goes, one step back, two steps forward.
“I didn’t think it was going to be as tough as it was when we started, for sure, but the thing that really excites me is how our folks dug in and said ‘We refuse to run like this, we refuse to lose. We’re going to get better,’ ” Hendrick said.
“… We’re getting smarter with the car. And again, the way we restructured the company, we’re getting smarter together and we’re working really tight and close together and I’m just as proud as I am of the win, I’m as proud the organization didn’t buckle when things got tough. They just worked harder and its starting to pay off,” he said.
“We’re not there yet and we’ve got a ways to go, but this sure feels good.”