CONCORD, N.C. – Rick Hendrick’s organization is the NASCAR Cup Series standard-bearer in nearly every statistical category – with one glaring exception.
But as the 2021 season opens, Hendrick Motorsports stands just six wins from breaking Petty Enterprises’ record for the most team wins at the highest level of stock car racing. The prosect of surpassing such a revered record has Hendrick both excited and humbled.
“The Petty organization will always be the backbone of the sport,” Hendrick said. “Richard will always be the King. And we may end up with more wins than they did, but what they’ve done for this sport … (Petty) is a person when you mention his name, it helps our whole sport. I’m a little humbled to think, ‘Hey, I’m going to, maybe, one day pass him (and) his (organization’s) wins.’”
The legendary Petty organization captured the record from Carl Kiekhafer Racing more than 60 years ago when Lee Petty took the checkered flag at Orange Speedway on May 29, 1960, for the team’s 53rd victory. Its 268th and final win was delivered by driver John Andretti on April 18, 1999.
“I would love to, but I don’t think I’ll ever contribute as much to the sport as Richard Petty and the Petty organization,” Hendrick said.
In the NASCAR Cup Series, Hendrick Motorsports owns the most championships (13), runner-up finishes (240), top-five results (1,101), top-10s (1,900) and laps led (70,823). Today the organization is tied with Petty Enterprises for the most seasons with at least one points-paying race win (36).
Chase Elliott added himself to the history books, as well. The 25-year-old driver is the third-youngest Cup Series champion after his 2020 title and is one of just two drivers to earn NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver the same year he won a championship. The other driver is Elliott’s father, Bill Elliott.
Hendrick lauded Elliott for striving to better himself and not relaxing after his championship run.
“I think Chase has such a sharp head on his shoulders that you don’t have to tell him much,” Hendrick said. “He celebrated and now he is ready to try and go do it again. … He is a competitor, but I think he takes all of it in stride. So I am excited about this year with Chase.”
Hendrick also is looking forward to seeing newcomer Kyle Larson hit the track. Sunday’s DAYTONA 500 will be the driver’s first points-paying Cup race in nearly a year. Hendrick said he’s impressed with Larson’s work ethic on and off the track since the organization signed him to the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE in October.
“Fans love him. He drives the wheels off the cars, whether it’s sprint cars or midgets,” Hendrick said of Larson. “He is a racer.”
With the competition even stronger heading into 2021, Hendrick knows it’s going to be a tall order to earn a record-extending 14th championship, but he also knows his team is built to win now and into the future. The owner has total faith in his four-driver stable of Larson, Elliott, William Byron and 2021 DAYTONA 500 pole winner Alex Bowman. With an average age of 26, they represent the youngest team in NASCAR. But Hendrick’s approach is simple.
“If we can lead laps, win races, then the rest will come,” he said. “We’re not in that dominant area where you can win 17 races in a year, and I don’t think anybody is anymore. There are too many good cars and drivers. But I feel better about where we are today than I have in probably three, four, or five years.”
Hendrick Motorsports will open the 2021 season in search of its record-tying ninth DAYTONA 500 win. “The Great American Race” will air Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.