Charlotte Motor Speedway has always been Rick Hendrick’s personal playground.
Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 brought new life to the team owner’s dominance at the 1.5-mile oval that sits just 1.8 miles away from the Hendrick race shop.
Kyle Larson, Hendrick’s newest driver, earned Hendrick’s 269th Cup Series victory to push the organization past Petty Enterprises on the all-time list. It served as the 21st Hendrick win at Charlotte and the 12th time it’s been accomplished in the 600-mile Memorial Day weekend crown jewel.
It was only fitting the milestone was reached in Hendrick’s backyard.
“Well, I’m going to remember that I really wanted to break the record at home,” Hendrick said late Sunday night in a post-race press conference. “I really wanted to do it in Charlotte. When the cars — when the race started and it looked like we were going to be really strong and all of them running in the top five, I thought we’ve really got a shot.”
With a new record achieved, there appears to be no slowing down for the organization for the future. Hendrick’s fleet of drivers – Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Elliott and Larson – has been a force for the better part of the 2021 season. All four drivers have recorded wins this year; Bowman, Elliott and Larson have won the past three races and Byron has earned 12 top-10 finishes in the past 13 events.
The combination seems to naturally click. But it’s something that didn’t just happen for Hendrick overnight.
“I’ve worked with Chase since he was 14, William walked up to me at the JRM shop when he was about 15 and said he wanted to drive one day, Alex … Dale picked him, and he and I are car nuts and we worked together, and Kyle is a racer,” Hendrick said. “I think they have tremendous respect for each other because I sit in the debriefs and listen to them sharing information, and I think the age does have a lot to do with it. I think that they respect each other, and each one offers a little bit that maybe the other one doesn’t have.”
The four drivers have an average age of just 26 years old. With that mixture of youth and talent so prevalent, Hendrick has put together a group proving it’s going to hang around Victory Lane for years to come.
Though having four competitive drivers and teams who are hungry for race wins is a fantastic problem to have for a team owner, the stress level elevates when you have them running up front consistently and competing in close proximity of each other.
“Well, it’s a lot of stress when they get close together and if they try to block,” Hendrick said. “The fear I have is wrecking each other because that destroys the organization’s ability to pull together. I’ve had that happen, and I had to get them in a room and say, you can’t — don’t touch each other. If you’re going for the win, okay, but just remember what you’re getting ready to do to the organization. It’s going to break us down if we have a lot of friction and we’re not working together.
“They want to win, but they race each other clean. I’ve heard all of them say, you’ve seen them on the track, they don’t push people around and they try to pass clean, and that’s the way we like to race.”
As he reflected on his storied history in the sport on Sunday night as the celebration was set to continue well into the night, Hendrick felt blessed that he’s been able to hire drivers who have used their unique talents to attain countless triumphs.
But most importantly, it’s how they’ve all become part of his family that has been the most rewarding.
“It’s like having a bunch of kids,” Hendrick said. “You love them all the same.”