In its 37 years of existence, Hendrick Motorsports has only had six seasons without a NASCAR Cup Series champion on its team.
Jimmie Johnson is the current resident champ. But “Seven-Time” is retiring from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of 2020. And title-less Kyle Larson – 28 years old compared to Johnson’s 45 – is filling the void in team owner Rick Hendrick’s garage next season, taking over his No. 5 Chevrolet as Alex Bowman moves to the No. 48.
“I’m super excited about it,” Hendrick said. “I like the way Kyle drives the car. Didn’t like to race against him, but always took a little pride in the motor was ours. I’m feeling real good about it.”
Larson used to drive for Chip Ganassi Racing in its No. 42 Chevrolet, which did feature a Hendrick Motorsports engine. He was released by the team and suspended by NASCAR back in April, however, after his use of a racial slur on an iRacing live stream. The sanctioning body reinstated Larson after evaluation on Oct. 19, and Hendrick Motorsports announced it had signed him to a multi-year deal on Oct. 28.
With the addition of Larson and loss of Johnson, the average age of Hendrick Motorsports drivers drops from 29.50 to 25.25. Alex Bowman is 27, Chase Elliott is 24 and William Byron is 22.
“It’s weird to be 28 years old and be the oldest guy on the team,” Larson said. “I was looking yesterday, I think Jamie McMurray is 16 years older than I am and Kurt (Busch) is 14 years older than me. Those are the last teammates I’ve had. They were both teenagers before I was born.”
Based on driver age in the Daytona 500, the 2021 crop will be Hendrick Motorsports’ youngest since 2005. Larson and Bowman will be the same age as they are now, while Elliott and Byron will be a year older. That’ll make their average 25.75. The 2005 bunch had Johnson (29), Jeff Gordon (33), Brian Vickers (21) and Kyle Busch (19). They averaged out to 25.50.
A major difference between those two groups: The 2005 team had a four-time champion in Gordon (Johnson’s first came in 2006).
There have only been two periods in Hendrick Motorsports history with no champions – from 1984-86 and 1991-93. The organization was founded in 1984, and then Benny Parsons was added in 1987. He joined already a champion (1973) and stayed at Hendrick for just the one season. Darrell Waltrip really held down the fort from 1987-90 thanks to his three previous titles. There was then a gap until Terry Labonte came around in 1994. He had his prior 1984 championship and then added another one in 1996 with Hendrick. Jeff Gordon showed up in 1993, won his first of four titles in 1995 and overlapped until 2015 with Johnson, who started his championship bonanza in 2006 and still carries the torch.
There’s still a chance the streak continues. Elliott and Bowman are active in the 2020 NASCAR Playoffs, as the Round of 8 concludes Sunday at Martinsville Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and the Championship 4 is set for the Nov. 8 finale at Phoenix Raceway. Both are currently below the elimination cutline, though, with three spots remaining. They’re tied at a 25-point disadvantage.
So, as of right now, the 2021 Hendrick Motorsports stable looks like it’ll be the first in 28 years without a crown-holder. But it may not be that way for long.
“We don’t have a champion,” Hendrick said. “But I think these guys are going to be champions.”