With great power comes great responsibility. It’s an adage that dates back to at least the first century B.C. and for Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports, they have the power of being an organization with 14 NASCAR Cup Series driver championships and the responsibility of locking up a young and talented group of drivers for many years to come.
Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, who has transitioned into a career behind a desk, after spending around two and a half decades behind the wheel of Hendrick Motorsports racecars, covered a lot of topics in a press conference with the media Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
When the topic of contract negotiations with the sport’s Most Popular Driver and 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion, Chase Elliott, and one of the brightest young emerging stars in the sport, William Byron, Hendrick didn’t mince words. Contracts are coming, and the 72-year old team owner wants both drivers to be with HMS for the foreseeable future.
“Probably any time pretty soon,” Hendrick said of when to expect contract extensions to be announced. “I want those [Elliott and Byron] to be with us forever, they told me they want to be here. I would say you should hear something on that here pretty soon.”
There was no bit of the short statement that was open to interpretation. Rick Hendrick simply wants to keep harnessing his young talents, and it appears they will be back with HMS at any cost.
A topic of conversation that has sparked questions about Kyle Larson’s Indianapolis 500 aspirations, were recent comments from Gordon that he would like to see the Hendrick Motorsports drivers step out of their comfort zones in order to become larger mainstream personalities.
While HMS boasts one of the deepest and most talented driver lineups of any team in the NASCAR Cup Series, they also have some of the most diverse driving talents. Kyle Larson piles up trophies on the dirt, while Elliott and Bowman also have been playing in the dirt lately and Byron is dedicated to doing more local short track late model events.
While Gordon loves seeing his drivers competing in different disciplines of racing, that isn’t exactly what he meant with his comments.
“They can interpret it however they want to interpret it,” Gordon quipped.
“I heard Denny say, it’s gotta happen organically. No doubt. I want it to happen organically. I want them to be true to who they are. But don’t just get comfortable and stay there,” Gordon explained. “I think more of what I’m talking about — I like them doing that on the race track too — but to me, it’s more on the marketing and branding side.
“It helps us talk to our sponsors. That could be on social media. It could be when they’re out with fans. It could be when they’re racing other things. It’s really up to them to decide how they want to do that, but I definitely want to set some goals for them in that case.”
For Gordon, 50, his new role as a brass within the Hendrick Motorsports organization is a total shift for him from a work standpoint.
“I told Rick, it took me 50 years before I had a real job, an office job. I have a desk and an office and I try to be there every day,” Gordon said. It depends on the needs, I mean, sometimes the needs are sometime away from the race track.
“I feel like I am one of the luckiest guys in the world because I got to drive for an amazing owner then got to be partners with him along the way. And now I get to kind of pay him back for all the opportunities that he’s given me and so many others. And also I still get to be a part of racing in a way I really couldn’t imagine.”
While his new job is true work, and gone are the days of sleeping in and simply wheeling race cars around the track in hopes of stacking up hardware as a driver. But even though he isn’t winning trophies for Hendrick Motorsports on the racetrack, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion driver says winning races ad championships on the business side of the sport is incredibly challenging in it’s own right.
“I’m really enjoying being on this side of it and I think I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying the connection that I’m making,” Gordon stated. “I always thought, if I’m not driving the car then the championships wont mean as much, I beg to differ, I think in some ways this is as rewarding and in other ways even more rewarding…”
Hendrick Motorsports is in good hands whenever Rick Hendrick decides to step away from the business side of the race team, and equally, it looks like Hendrick Motorsports’ race cars will be in good hands for many years to come as the team is approaching locking up Elliott and Byron longterm.