Mr. Hendrick is well positioned to add to the legacy of his Hendrick Motorsports organization this year with two of his four Cup drivers – Kyle Larson and William Byron – making up half of the Championship 4 that will compete Sunday at Phoenix Raceway for the 2023 title.
Neither driver’s appearance should come as a surprise.
Both were among the most consistent all season, as Byron enjoyed a breakout year with a series-leading six wins while Larson had the second-most with four. Two of Larson’s victories came in the playoffs while one of Byron’s did.
Both each won one race early in the year, but both also produced clutch victories – Bell one and Blaney two – in the playoffs which helped propel them into the title fight against teams which enjoyed far more success in the regular season.
“I think this is what kind of shows you – I won’t say anybody – but there’s probably 10 or 15 guys out there in the right position that could be in this playoff, be one of the guys in the final four,” Hendrick said.
“You look at the talent of the people out there, the way these cars equalize the field. On any given day you see organizations that rise to the top. … I think it opens the sport up. I think it’s what Jim France wanted and what NASCAR wanted, and the fans wanted, to equalize the field and see multiple people have shots to win races.”
How the new car has changed things
Hendrick believes the biggest change in competition with the new car is teams’ inability to engineer their own parts and pieces. Teams now purchase virtually the entire car from single-source suppliers.
“We’re basically racing the same car. When you look at the motors, they’re all pretty close. I mean, they’re within three or four horsepower of each other from Toyota to Ford to Chevrolet,” he said.
“The advantage in the sport today is pit crews, having a really good pit crew that’s fast, guys calling the race not making any mistakes. The wild card today is restarts, getting track position. Whether you get it with two tires, no tires, fuel only, whatever you do.
“I think what you’ve seen with all the winners and how many people were in the 16-car playoff, I think NASCAR is getting what they want with the car. It’s making the field more equal than it’s ever been.”
In doing so, the separation between teams seems to have become smaller and more refined – especially in areas like individual driving characteristics, pits crews and strategy calls.
That, in turn, has opened the door for a wider field of drivers to pull off victories and even advance to the Championship 4.
Photo by: Rusty Jarrett / NKP / Motorsport Images
Josh Berry, Hendrick Motorsports, Ally Throwback Chevrolet Camaro, Rick Hendrick and Jeff Bodine.
“Christopher Bell is a heck of a talent. I watched him in the sprints and midgets, watched him race. He has an awesome amount of talent. Joe Gibbs, his organization is one of the best,” Hendrick said.
“The same with Ryan Blaney. I think he’s one of the most talented guys out there. The Penske organization, Roger (Penske) and Joe (Gibbs) both are good friends of mine. They lack for nothing. I mean, they’re the best.
“I hate to have to race those two because they definitely are going to be hard to beat (but) I’m not surprised at all that they’re there.”