CONCORD, N.C. -- Rick Hendrick said Chase Elliott and Alan Gustafson’s confidence is what led them and the No. 9 team to becoming NASCAR Cup Series champions.
The Hendrick Motorsports owner and founder praised the driver and crew chief for remaining calm during the cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway and the Championship 4 event at Phoenix Raceway. At Martinsville, jackman T.J. Semke came over the wall during a pitstop too early, but he jumped back and tapped the barrier before Elliott came to a stop in his pit box. At Phoenix, the No. 9 car started from the rear after inspection issues before the race.
Elliott won both events and cemented the first championship for himself, Gustafson and the No. 9 crew.
“I’ve never seen Alan as confident as he was in both races. And Chase,” Hendrick said. “I thought when they had to go to the back (at Phoenix), that would rattle Chase a little bit. He was like, ‘Hey guys, we’re going to have fun today.’ They were super calm, super cool and super confident.”
Even though Hendrick was celebrating his 13th championship with Elliott, it was tinged with a little sadness. The race at Phoenix also was Jimmie Johnson’s last event as a full-time Cup Series driver. Hendrick said one moment between Johnson and Elliott will forever be cemented in his memory.
“When they got together on the track when it was over, man, the emotions just exploded,” Hendrick said. “So, it was kind of like passing a baton.”
Even though 2020 was an unusual season, Hendrick said he’s proud of his drivers’ performances. Alex Bowman had a win, six top-five finishes and 15 top-10s. He ended the year on a hot streak by finishing inside the top 10 in nine of the final 12 races.
William Byron earned his first victory of his Cup career at Daytona International Speedway in August and wrapped up the season with four top-10 finishes in the final six races, including a ninth-place result at Phoenix.
Hendrick also is preparing to work with Kyle Larson, who will pilot the No. 5 Chevrolet in 2021.
“I’m really excited about next year,” Hendrick said. “I think we got a great lineup. Our cars look quick and everybody’s committed. I can’t wait for ’21.”