CONCORD, N.C. – Running a three-race NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule was not a light undertaking but one that Hendrick Motorsports believes will pay dividends for its drivers.
Last week, the organization announced that it would field a Xfinity car in three events: Road America with Kyle Larson (on July 2), the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course with Alex Bowman (on July 30) and Watkins Glen International with William Byron (on Aug. 20). HendrickCars.com will sponsor the effort for the No. 17 Chevrolet Camaro.
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"The opportunity to get more track time is something that our drivers are always interested in," Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, said. "Particularly, race tracks that are unique to the circuit. Road courses, unique track configurations, layouts such as Darlington (Raceway) and things like that are of importance to our drivers for managing grip levels and driving techniques.
"We felt like we saw a benefit earlier this year when Alex (Bowman) ran the (NASCAR Camping World) truck race at COTA (Circuit of The Americas) and gave him some much needed experience on that track prior to the event on Sunday."
Bowman was battling for the win in that event during the NASCAR Overtime finish but was caught up in an on-track incident on the last lap.
The Xfinity Series starts will mark the company’s first since Feb. 14, 2009, when Tony Stewart piloted a HendrickCars.com-sponsored Chevrolet to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports fielded a car in the series from 1984 to 1990, 2000 to 2007 and the last start in 2009. All told, the organization has 26 wins in the series and won the 2003 title with driver Brian Vickers.
In April, JR Motorsports announced that it was fielding the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro for five races with Hendrick Motorsports drivers. Three of those are still to come with Byron running at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (on July 16) and Larson behind the wheel at Watkins Glen International (on Aug. 20) and Darlington Raceway (on Sept. 3).
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All three of the No. 17’s races are on road courses as is one of the JRM races. That is not a mere coincidence, according to Andrews
"We gave drivers the opportunity to give us input on tracks where they felt like they needed more laps or more repetition," Andrews said. "Obviously, road courses are something to where the timing of the brake and throttle and getting yourself familiar with that environment is helpful. So they came back to us with all of the road course events. We went to JRM and got them in cars that they had available for certain road course events and the ones that they didn’t, we decided to do those ourselves."
The road course prep goes beyond the Xfinity schedule. Last month, Byron took part in a Goodyear tire test at Watkins Glen International ahead of the August race weekend there.
The cars will be built in-house at the Hendrick Motorsports shop in Concord, North Carolina with help from JR Motorsports from a setup standpoint, Andrews noted. As of now, there are no plans to do anything past 2022 with a Hendrick Motorsports-fielded Xfinity car.
Kevin Meendering will be atop the pit box for the three races. He is currently a support engineer at Hendrick Motorsports but was also a crew chief in the Xfinity Series from 2016 to 2018. Working with driver Elliott Sadler, he helped to guide the veteran driver to three wins and two runner-up finishes in the standings over that three-year stretch.
The No. 17 Chevrolet Camaro will need to qualify for each race on speed and Hendrick Motorsports rich history with that number suggests that should work out just fine. NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip won nine times in that car number for the organization from 1987 to 1990, including the 1989 DAYTONA 500.
The car number also carries special significance to the Hendrick family as it was the number that Ricky Hendrick drove over two seasons in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series from 2000 to 2001. The paint scheme will be based on the truck he drove those seasons, which included a victory at Kansas Speedway.
"We looked at our existing numbers in the Cup Series and tried to understand what was available with our existing car numbers," Andrews said. "The (No.) 88 works well with JRM when they run the fifth car for us. But for our own effort, we started to do some research on what was out there and what was available and the No. 17 was currently not being used. We reached out to NASCAR and confirmed that and acquired that for these three races.
"It was a great fit for Mr. and Mrs. Hendrick. I’m sure it’s going to be very special for them as well as the rest of the company to put that car in those colors in that livery to get that back on track."