CONCORD, N.C. – Starting a new program from scratch can be a bit of an undertaking. To that end, Hendrick Motorsports' foray into fielding an in-house NASCAR Xfinity Series car has been a labor of love for competition development manager Kevin Meendering.
Meendering is serving as the crew chief for the three-race effort. The organization will field the No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro at Road America on July 2 with driver Kyle Larson, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course on July 30 with driver Alex Bowman and Watkins Glen International on Aug. 20 with driver William Byron.
"It’s been a lot of work," Meendering said. "We’ve relied heavily on our partners at JR Motorsports (JRM). They’ve helped us out a ton. We are kind of geared up for the Next Gen car now. We had put all that other stuff away. Dug up an old car from last year, converted it over to a Xfinity (Series). They’ve got a strong program over there (at JR Motorsports) and they’ve been helping us out a lot."
The three-race in house effort is in addition to the previously announced slate of races for Hendrick Motorsports drivers with the Dale Earnhardt Jr. co-owned organization. The entry will be the first in the Xfinity Series for Hendrick Motorsports since 2009 when Tony Stewart won with the team at Daytona International Speedway. That victory was the 26th in the series for the organization.
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The 41-year-old is no stranger to the Xfinity ranks from his time at JRM. From 2016 to 2018, he spent three seasons as the crew chief for driver Elliott Sadler. In that time, he totaled three wins, 39 top-five finishes, 77 top-10s and two runner-up finishes in the season standings. Meendering is excited for the opportunity to get back on top of the box.
"I think having some experience just being able to go out and jump on there with a put-together group that doesn’t do it week in and week out," Meendering said of the three-race run. "I think you got to rely on that experience especially on road course events where there is a lot of strategy involved."
Hendrick Motorsports president and general manager Jeff Andrews said that Meendering is "well versed in the Xfinity garage."
Last weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway put him back on top of the box a week earlier than planned as he filled in for suspended crew chief Cliff Daniels on the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet team. This was the first of four races he will work atop the box on Sundays as he will fill for Daniels through the New Hampshire Motor Speedway race weekend. Meendering helped guide Larson to a fourth-place finish at Nashville
With practice time limited most weekends, the stable of drivers in the organization indicated a preference to get more seat time on road courses. The Michigan native expects his counterparts on the Cup Series pit box to be significantly involved leading up to their drivers events.
"Anything we can do to get those guys more time on track," Meendering said. "The feel of the track, how the track changes throughout a race and just getting in the mindset of the strategies involved – hopefully it pays off on Sunday. That’s the goal."
Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus had high compliments for the work Meendering and the team have done to get everything ready in short order.
"He’s done a fantastic job," Knaus said. "He and Josh Kirk, who is an old car chief that we’ve got here at Hendrick Motorsports, have done a really good job of getting the cars and equipment ready to go. I think both of them have been a good match. I think Kevin will do a great job calling the strategy and getting the car tuned in."
During his time at Hendrick Motorsports, Meendering has worn many hats. For the first 21 races of 2019, he was the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Racing team. Since then, Meendering has worked on the development side as he headed up a lot of the organization’s Next Gen testing and helping to bring that platform on board to the company. In addition, he handled a lot of the team tests and tire tests.
"This year, I’ve taken over the competition development department," Meendering said. "So everything related to simulation, seven-post testing, tires, everything that goes into supporting the race engineers and providing the tools they need to win races."
Meendering’s time at the company goes back to when he was in high school and worked as an intern in the chassis shop. From there, he earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, all while continuing to work at Hendrick Motorsports. From 2008 to 2010, he served as the assistant engineer on the No. 24 Chevrolet with driver and four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon. He would then shift with crew chief Steve Letarte over to the No. 88 Chevrolet as the lead engineer for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team – a position he would hold for five seasons from 2011 to 2015, including a season under the leadership of crew chief Greg Ives.
The experience of being at this company when the No. 17 was in use for Ricky Hendrick is something Meendering appreciates and understands the significance of. Hendrick drove that number to a win in 2001 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. And getting that specific number back to victory lane? Well, that would carry plenty of impact throughout the organization.
"Obviously, the 17 and the paint scheme – the current scheme that Kyle (Larson) is running it goes back to Ricky Hendrick in the (Camping World) Truck Series," Meendering said. "That was his number and his paint scheme. So to kind of put the two back together and be able to go there and represent him, there is just a lot of meaning in that. It would be great to try and win in that paint scheme and that number.
"I was around when that truck ran back then. Certainly for the Hendrick family, it would be a huge accomplishment and very gratifying to see that. Very emotional for sure."