NASCAR: The big issue facing Hendrick Motorsports

Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

One of the top organizations in the NASCAR Cup Series has struggled as the playoffs approach. What is Hendrick Motorsports’ problem, and are they in serious trouble?

Coming off of a historic season, Hendrick Motorsports entered 2022 as the favorite to capture another NASCAR Cup Series championship with one of their drivers: Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron, or Alex Bowman.

While the four drivers boast five combined wins this season, most among all teams, they have not been to victory lane in over a month and a half. But they have had a number of issues plague their runs. Is the team in trouble as the regular season winds down, and if so, how much?

Kyle Larson

The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion is coming fresh off a race gone wrong. After dominating stage one at Sonoma Raceway, Larson got mired in the pack for most of the race due to pit strategy. His day was totally derailed when a right front wheel wasn’t secured properly on a pit stop and rolled off the car, resulting in suspension for crew chief Cliff Daniels for the next four races. Larson was able to recover for a 15th place finish.

Two weeks earlier, Larson had just about every problem imaginable in the Coca-Cola 600, including having part of the quarter panel catch on fire. Amazingly, he found himself in position to win the race in the closing laps, and he could have won if not for a late caution.

Since Hendrick Motorsports’ most recent win, Larson has finished P36, P2, P9, P12, and P15, good for an average finish of 14.8.

Despite his issues, Larson has shown a great deal of speed that isn’t reflected by his finishes. Larson ran in the top five for a significant portion of the race at Darlington Raceway, even leading 30 laps, before his engine expired.

He was in contention to win at both Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, and at Sonoma Raceway, he had the car to beat early. As long as Larson can stay consistent in the absence of Daniels, the pair should be able to win a few races when they reunite later this summer, barring any mistakes.

Chase Elliott

The driver who scored Hendrick Motorsports’ most recent win at Dover Motor Speedway in early May has perhaps struggled the most of the organization’s quartet. In each of the last five race weekends, Elliott has had some type of trouble.

He crashed in practice at Darlington Raceway. At Kansas Speedway, he was having a solid day before spinning out with a flat tire and getting stuck in the grass, losing three laps in the process. He hit the wall and spun at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and after the #9 team was unable to fix a broken toe link, his night was over.

The following weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Elliott was running in the top 10 when he had to take a trip down pit road to tighten a loose wheel, sending him to the middle of the pack. He then spun after making contact with Ross Chastain and was mired in the middle of the pack the rest of the race.

Most recently at Sonoma Raceway, after running in the top three through most of stages one and two and being in prime position for an eighth career road course win, he was penalized for pitting outside of his pit box. He rebounded to finish in eighth place.

Since Hendrick Motorsports’ most recent win, Elliott has finished P5, P29, P33, P21, and P8, good for an average finish of 19.2.

Unlike Larson, there is some serious reason to worry about Elliott. Pit road issues have plagued the #9 team regularly, and they need to get things cleaned up if they want to stay in championship contention.

As far as speed, the team seems to be able to strategize to work their way back toward the front, but other on-track issues have made it hard for Elliott to stay there. The team just needs to have a few mistake-free races to build up some momentum back, but at this point, that seems like it could be a tall task.

William Byron

The first driver to capture two wins in 2022 has been on a downward slide in the last month or so. At Sonoma Raceway, Byron earned his first top 10 finish since his win at Martinsville Speedway, eight races prior.

He lost a tire at Kansas Speedway, crashed at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and got pushed out of the groove and into the wall at Darlington Raceway. Even in the races he hasn’t had problems, he just hasn’t been near the front. He has fallen from third to eighth in the point standings, over a full race behind the points leader.

Since Hendrick Motorsports’ most recent win, Byron has finished P13, P16, P32, P19, and P9, good for an average finish of 17.8.

Byron’s results, much like Larson’s, aren’t necessarily indicative of his performance throughout races. He was leading at Darlington Raceway with just a few laps to go before Joey Logano sent him into the wall, leading to a 13th place finish.

He was also leading at Kansas Speedway when he blew a tire, and he was running inside the top 10 at Charlotte Motor Speedway before a pit stop put him in the middle of the pack on a restart, which led to him being involved in a race-ending accident.

Then at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and Sonoma Raceway, the speed of the #24 Chevrolet just wasn’t quite where it needed to be for the team to be competitive.

There should be a small sense of worry around the #24 team. Some weeks, it’s been the car, while others, it’s just been misfortune. As long as they can get a race or two where both components fall in favor of Byron, the team could start a resurgence and begin climbing back up the point standings.

Alex Bowman

Of all the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Alex Bowman has had the fewest on-track issues. He did have a fire on the right side of his throwback #48 Chevrolet at Darlington Raceway, but other than that, his main issue has been the overall lack of speed.

Bowman has collected a total of three stage points in the last five races, and in most of those events, he has been running worse than where he’s finished. He has gained spots by capitalizing on drivers in front of him having issues.

Bowman hasn’t spent much time in the top 10 at all in the last few races. It’s almost as if his team is giving it all they’ve got, but the cars just aren’t fast. It hasn’t helped that the team hasn’t appeared to make any massive strategy calls to try to earn more stage points or a better race finish, strategy calls which could be worthwhile given the fact that they already have a win and a secured spot in the playoffs — for now.

Since Hendrick Motorsports’ last win, Bowman has finished P29, P9, P10, P13, and P16, good for an average finish of 15.4.

The lack of speed and strategy to make up for it is concerning for a driver who won four races last year. There should be a moderate level of concern around the #48 team, which hasn’t been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks.

But if they can find the speed that their teammates have and pair that with the ability to finish races cleanly, the #48 Chevrolet should be in victory lane once again in 2022.

Next. NASCAR team rankings: New powerhouse at the top?. dark

In short, Hendrick Motorsports have had some serious issues over the last few weeks, and the organization which ended 2021 and started 2022 firing on all cylinders seems to have lost their edge. But while there is reason for concern, there have still been a lot of good moments for all four teams amid this tough stretch, and it really boils down to a lack of execution.

At Sonoma Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports led their 100,000th mile as an organization, becoming the first team to do so in NASCAR Cup Series history. If there is any sign of hope for the organization, this is a massive one.