It had to be nervous moments for Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon and the brass at Hendrick Motorsports as they saw their two marquee drivers — Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott — swap paint for the lead in the closing laps at Watkins Glen.
As Larson locked up his brakes into turn one on the final restart of the race, he routed Elliott out of the groove on the 2.45-mile road course, which forced the driver of the No. 9 car to fade to a fourth-place finish despite leading the most laps on the day and seemingly having the race sewed up. Larson, meanwhile, went on to score his second win of the season.
Following the race, Elliott, who has a series-high four wins this season, was noticeably miffed in his post-race interview and press conference, while he muted his thoughts and towed the company line.
Larson, on the other hand, admitted he wasn’t proud of how he won, but that essentially, he had to do what he had to do for Playoff Points.
Two star drivers butting heads on track isn’t anything new for the Hendrick organization, as Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson feuded several times on track over the years. An on-track shoving match between the two in 2005 led to an infamous milk and cookies meeting at the Hendrick Motorsports shop.
While it is unknown whether milk and cookies were served, it seems like Larson and Elliott are now on the same page following Monday’s Hendrick Motorsports competition meeting as they are mirroring each other in interviews following the spat at The Glen.
During a test session at Martinsville Speedway on Tuesday, Larson described the meeting at Hendrick Motorsports as positive.
“We all had an open conversation in the competition meeting yesterday, as we do every week to talk about the previous race week,” Larson explained. “It was positive, it was definitely constructive and it was good to have those talks.”
While race car drivers have always been a selfish lot, Larson says he understands that there is more at play than just himself on race weekends.
“…I think one thing is for sure, we all like to win. We try really hard to do that, but in the end, should probably have a little more respect next time,” Larson said.
In the end, Larson got the maximum result for his team and sponsor in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race, but looking back on it, he sees there are ways he could have handled the finish of the race to better benefit the entire organization.
“…I think you also have to look out for the organization, and what’s best for everybody as a whole,” Larson explained. “I don’t know. I wish things would have I guess played out differently and Monday would have been a little better for me. Like I said, it was productive and in the end it was positive to have that talk. Ready to just move on from it. Looking forward to Daytona and on into the Playoffs.”
While Larson sounds like a driver who was receptive to criticisms thrown at him in the competition meeting, Elliott sounds like a driver who has totally moved on from the situation.
“Look, there is no matter. The matter is that those guys did a fantastic job. Stayed in the hunt and ultimately won the event and we didn’t,” Elliott said in a Wednesday appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s The Morning Drive. “You can look at it from 45 different angles, and I’m sure you guys have been all day, but the reality is they won the race and we didn’t. We need to do a better job and I need to do a better job moving forward. Ultimately, that’s what we’re going to focus on doing. That’s really all that matters at this point.”
For Elliott, the eye is on the prize as he wants to reach the zenith of the sport, again, like he did in winning the NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2020.
“Just looking forward to these last 11 weeks and bring our A-game, as much as possible. Try to get on a good roll at the right time, that can make the difference for you. Looking forward to Daytona,” Elliott said.
It sounds like any hard feelings between Elliott and Larson have been successfully laid to bed by Hendrick and Gordon, and whoever else was a part of that Monday morning competition meeting.
Expect the two teammates to be on the same page as we head into the Playoffs.