CONCORD, N.C. – Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick certainly knows what it feels like to be on top.
With 12 NASCAR Cup Series championships and 252 Cup Series wins, Hendrick Motorsports has seen the highest of the highs.
But at the start of this season, the organization found itself a bit off the pace.
“When you get behind or there’s a major change and you find yourself off, those guys are getting better,” Hendrick told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Thursday. “The teams that were dominating, they don’t rest. They get better. So, you’ve got to make a much bigger leap than they make. You’ve got to close the gap and get better, and they’re not going to sit still.”
So, closing the gap is precisely what the entire organization set out to do. Day by day, slight improvement after improvement, teammates chipped away.
All over campus, team members put their heads down and got to work.
“I can tell you this: our guys have worked harder than I’ve ever seen them work,” Hendrick said. “When you’re really super competitive, it looks like it’s easy. You just show up and you get better, but you just kind of get out there and race for the win. When you’re behind, you’ve got to really, really keep your head up and not destroy everything. Don’t point fingers, just grind it out. And that’s what our guys have done this year. They’re grinding it out, nobody pointed fingers. And when you put all those smart people together, you’re not going to keep them down forever.”
The work began to show up on the racetrack, particularly as the season reached the summer stretch, and then Chase Elliott captured the organization’s 250th Cup Series victory.
The Watkins Glen win started a stretch of 11 races in which Elliott has won three times and advanced to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
The 2018 season marks the 13th consecutive in which Hendrick Motorsports has sent at least two drivers into the playoffs, the most of all organizations. It’s the 11th different season the organization has sent at least three drivers into the playoffs, also the most of all teams.
From where the season began to how the organization’s four drivers are running now, Hendrick couldn’t be prouder of how everyone’s hard work has paid off. And he’s excited to see what Elliott and the No. 9 team will be able to do in the final four races of the season with a championship on the line.
“I am really proud of those guys,” Hendrick said. “We have not had a stellar year. It was probably one of the roughest starts I think that I can remember since I’ve been racing. To have (Elliott) come on like he has here at the end – all the cars are running better, but Chase, he looks like a 10-year veteran.”
Coming off two wins in the past three weeks, Elliott celebrated with teammates on campus on Thursday with the Victory Bell.
“Everybody is pumped, jacked, and when we ring the Victory Bell this many times in a short period of time, it’s lifted the whole place,” Hendrick said.
Now, the Round of 8 commences this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, a track where Hendrick Motorsports has won 24 times. It’s the most wins by any team at any track all-time.
And Hendrick is eager to watch what can happen with the organization still “getting better every day.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing what all the cars can do,” the owner said, “but we would love to get Chase down to Homestead.”