Hendrick Motorsports gets full band back together ahead of Coca-Cola 600

Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott talk
Sean Gardner
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CONCORD, N.C. – “Yeah, I don’t know that they were missing much without me around.”

Alex Bowman returned to the NASCAR circuit at a wet and rainy Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday with his usual dry humor and quips.

Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be the first time the driver of the No. 48 has competed in the Cup Series since suffering a fractured vertebra in a sprint-car crash last month. More importantly for Hendrick Motorsports, it’s the first time since Fontana in February that all full-time personnel, drivers and crew members alike, will be present and competing during a race weekend.

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Dating back to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March, the roster for the Hendrick camp has needed alterations and substitutions of varying degrees.

It began with Chase Elliott’s leg injury after a snowboarding accident that kept him out from Vegas until his return at Martinsville Speedway six races later.

A week later, following the spring race at Phoenix Raceway, all four Hendrick crew chiefs (Cliff Daniels, Rudy Fugle, Alan Gustafson, Blake Harris) were suspended for four races after the organization was hit with L2-level penalties for unapproved parts modifications.

Fast forward to Richmond Raceway in April, and Hendrick was levied with more penalties that resulted in substitute crew chiefs Brian Campe and Greg Ives getting suspended for two races as they filled in the position for the No. 24 and No. 48 teams, respectively, while Fugle and Harris continued to serve their race bans.

Despite not seeing the same faces at the track every weekend in the first half of the regular season, Hendrick still succeeded, picking up three race wins during the span where the organization was missing key pieces. William Byron, who has a series-high three wins in 2023, noted where having the full roster back has the biggest impact.

“It’s really important for the morale of the shop and for us to be able to kind of pull the rope in the same direction,” Byron said. “I think having Josh [Berry] in was great. He really did a good job subbing. But obviously, we have notes from four or five years, or more, from working together as a group of four. I feel like we understand each other’s driving styles, and that just really helps grow the group, in general, and grow the setups forward. I think having all of our feedback back together, it would be nice to see that kind of payoff with practice. But I think Monday, we’ll really be able to dissect what we all had in the race, and it will be nice to have everyone back to do that.”

A full game plan for Monday’s behemoth 600-miler was stifled as rain canceled both practice and qualifying sessions on Saturday.

MORE: Byron on pole, see starting lineup for Coke 600

While not being a full-time driver in the Cup Series, Josh Berry made a statement on a weekly basis filling in for both Elliott and Bowman across eight races. Berry, who competes for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, racked up three top-10 finishes for Hendrick, including a breakout runner-up finish at Richmond.

For the organization, the timing couldn’t have been better to have the full group together with the team shop adjacent to Charlotte Motor Speedway and competing on the 1.5-mile oval, where it has won two of the last three events.

Elliott, who won on the oval in 2020, said he’s ready to put a hectic first half of the regular season behind him and have the entire organization firing on all cylinders to make a run for the playoffs.

“I feel like everything at our campus over there has just been a little chaotic in one way or another, right – with me getting hurt and just kind of not knowing when I was going to be able to come back and talking through all of that stuff,” Elliott said. “I feel like everybody over there did a great job handling it, and same for Alex’s injury, too. But it’s just extra work, you know, that you don’t want to have to do – more questions to answer and I think a little bit of just a distraction more than anything. But fortunately or unfortunately, we’ve gotten well-versed in this category this year. Hopefully, that’s the end of it, at least for this season.

“The good news is that there’s a lot of racing left. You have the entire summer stretch into early fall before the playoffs start, so plenty of time to get done what you’re going to get done and to figure out how you’re going to run and whether or not you’re going to be a contender or not. Those things don’t just change overnight, so plenty of time to get back on track if that’s what we’re going to do. I certainly feel like we can as a group and as a company and particularly in the No. 9 camp, too.”