An Interview With: RICK HENDRICK
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for taking some time with us. We are now joined by our championship winning team owner, Rick Hendrick. We’ll get right into questions.
Q. Rick, I wanted to ask, obviously Jimmie’s last race is also Chase’s first championship. Do you feel that’s symbolic, and do you think Chase can match him?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, he’s a young guy. I think he’s going to win a lot of them. Seven is a big number, but that’s something to shoot at.
Chase has shown so much maturity and everything by just winning these races and now the championship at 24 years old. I think he’s got a lot left in his tank.
Q. Did you feel like this was kind of the turning of the guard from Jimmie to Chase, obviously getting his first title?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I thought it was pretty cool the way they met each other on the track at the end of the race. Jimmie’s last race is Chase’s first championship, and to see those two guys embrace, that was really cool. I think it means a lot to our whole organization.
Jimmie is really special to us, like part of our family. Chase is the new kid coming along not a kid, but… He’s a champion now.
It was a special moment to see those two guys embrace. I think they tore the cars up running into each other out there a little bit, but it was a special time and a special place.
Q. I was hoping you could confirm that you hadn’t seen Jimmie in a long time, like several months, through all of this season. Can you talk about that?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, well, I haven’t gone to the races. We talk on the phone but not in person. I’ve kind of tried to stay away from a lot of folks with all this COVID 19 crisis going around, but we talk on the phone.
I think this was the first time that I had actually seen him in the flesh. So it was, again, really special, and I’m going to be with him again tonight. Linda and I are looking forward to spending time with he and Chaney and his friends.
This year has been really difficult. We didn’t know if we were going to run races or not. The owners couldn’t go, you couldn’t go in the garage. If you go, you have to sit in a suite. I applaud NASCAR for what they did because if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have had a season. We’ve run all the races and it’s been amazing to think that we got it all in and crowned a champion.
I think right now I’m just a little bit not in shock, but I’m in kind of thinking about the highs and lows of the day, with Jimmie’s last race, thinking we won’t see him at Daytona next year, and then Chase’s first championship. You know, it happens to all of us, I guess.
The good thing about Jimmie and I, we’re buddies and we’re going to do things, and I’m probably going to watch him run an open wheel race. He’s excited about a lot of different racing. Both of our guys, Chase and Jimmie, will be in the 24 hour race, so I’m looking forward to that.
You know, I think probably the middle of next week Jimmie and I actually said we’re going to get together next week, but I’ll reflect back on the day and what it really meant. It was the last time to see him in the 48 car and to see Chase win his first championship.
Q. Obviously much has been made about how you signed Chase Elliott a decade ago as a 14 year old. I guess going back to those days, in one sense, what in the world are you thinking signing a 14 year old kid? Can you kind of explain that process? Obviously the lineage is quite clear, but what was it about that? Did anybody try to talk you out of cooling your jets, or were you afraid if you didn’t sign him you were going to lose him to another manufacturer?
RICK HENDRICK: I won’t name any names at our company, but I think a lot of people thought I was nuts.
No, you see a kid like that… Actually James Finch told me, Have you seen Chase Elliott drive?
And I said, No.
He said, Man, he’s whipping all these guys on dirt.
So I started getting some videos, and then I called Bill, and they came down and we talked.
I just watched him in those late models and then actually saw one of the races he was racing Kyle Busch. Just the way Bill raised him and what a polished young guy he was and had a lot of talent, I thought, man, he’s just 14 years old so sure want to take a chance if we can.
You’ve got to find a guy like that early. And again, I think it was a combination of skill, pedigree and just a sharp young man.
Q. You referenced Chase and Jimmie both will be in the 24 Hours Rolex at Daytona, and a little bit more information, are you going to be involved with that in any way or is that a different team?
RICK HENDRICK: Maybe I jumped the gun on that. I’m not 100 percent sure. I heard a rumor, okay, so I can’t confirm that.
Q. We hear a lot from drivers saying that they’re never sure when their next win is going to come. Do you have that same feeling? It’s been four years since your last championship. Were you starting to wonder when is that next one coming as far as titles?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, it’s so hard to win a race out here. You look at the talent that’s out here today and in the sport. If you have, like in this race today, a flat tire or a slow pit stop, anything could cost you a championship. You don’t have any buffer. It’s just hard to win these things, hard to win races.
You know, it has been a dry spell, and it’s gotten a little old going to the finale and not having a car in it. We’re very proud of our guys for getting there and Chase for winning Martinsville and then coming back today and winning the whole deal.
What’s really special is that he had to go to the back, which I was scared that he would get swept up in something. But to go to the rear and then come back and have to run those three guys that he did all day long and couldn’t make a mistake, guys in the pits couldn’t make a mistake.
This sport is hard. You look at Kevin Harvick and the kind of year he’s had. Everybody thought you were going to have to beat him, and he didn’t make the Final 4.
It’s a pretty competitive deal, but glad to get this one.
Q. I know this probably doesn’t help your blood pressure to have your teams hit two walk off home runs at the end of the year when it’s all on the line to make it in and then to win the championship. What’s it like to have a team on the razor’s edge come through?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, it’s a nail biter and nerves. Martinsville, if T.J., our jack guy, didn’t go back and touch the wall, we wouldn’t have been able to have a shot at winning the race at Martinsville.
I like the ‘walk off’ deal. That’s pretty cool.
Then you come here in the finale and you’ve got to go to the rear, and you work your way back through the field and you end up leading the race and pulling away at the end. It was a great day.
I think, again, I go back to Kevin Harvick. Three or four races prior to the end of the year, they were probably thinking, Hey, we’ll be in Phoenix, one of my best tracks, and I’m going to get another championship. But man, you can’t bank on anything in this sport anymore because you can be as good as anybody out there or better, and the cars don’t follow you away in the race, you’re out.
Q. Does it ever get old winning races and winning championships?
RICK HENDRICK: No. I wouldn’t be doing this at my age if that got old, I’ll tell you that. No, I just really love to see young guys at our company have an opportunity to go out and do something really special. I love seeing Chad Knaus now become competition director, and Jeff Andrews who’s worked so hard for us for so many years, and he’s general manager now. Marshall Carlson, all the guys at Motorsports do a heck of a job.
But when you see these young guys, young engineers become crew chiefs and then become champions and you see young drivers win races like William or Alex and you think about their age and how much they have ahead of them, it makes me feel pretty old because I can remember when I met Jeff Gordon at 21 or 22, whatever it was, 20.
And now time moves on, but it never gets old. If you don’t have that winning, wanting to win, keep the momentum going at your company…
I owe it all to a lot of good folks that work hard every day. Just watching them be successful, that’s a tremendous satisfaction for me.
Q. I’ll ask a similar question that I asked to Alan. You’ve obviously known you had a talented driver in Chase, but was there anything that you’ve noticed over the last two weeks, last week and today specifically, that you think that you’ve seen him do that may carry forward, both him and the team to future success?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I think they don’t get rattled. Chase at his age, to be as calm as he is… And if you heard him on the radio when the race started, he had to go to the rear, he said, Okay, guys, let’s have some fun. Alan was just as calm as a cucumber.
They had a lot of confidence coming into this race today, a tremendous amount. You’ve got to believe in yourself, and man, they did, and they did it. They pulled it off. They were confident in Martinsville. We had a couple situations that could have put us out of the deal.
But I think that’s the maturity of the team and Alan and his crew, that they’re soldiers. They work well together. Chase believes in them, they believe in Chase.
I can’t believe they were as calm as they were today, especially having to start in the rear.
Q. This may seem like a silly question since you won the championship, but when you look back on this season, with everything that took place, and you guys made a lot of changes in the off season hoping to get better, how do you feel as an organization that you weathered the storm this year?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, if you go back and look at how the year started and we were really running well, Chase and Alex both had a Chase had a valve stem issue, a flat tire at one of the stages, I think it was in Vegas, and ran good in several places, leading on the last lap or two at Darlington. So the cars have had speed.
Then the middle part of the year we kind of slowed down a little bit. Then toward the end we picked up the momentum again.
It’s been a crazy year. We’ve been trying to tell the sponsors, Hey, we’re going to race. They can’t come to the track, and thankfully all our sponsors hung in there and supported us. You didn’t know if you were going to run all the races.
NASCAR did a heck of a job dealing with all these states and governors and rules changing daily and telling them they could and they couldn’t and all that, and then to come through it. Jimmie was the only driver that tested positive, I guess. That knocked him out early.
If you think about it, it’s been an awesome year of good racing, and I think our sport has probably done better or as well as or better than any of the other sports. We got them all in. Hopefully we’ll get a vaccine and have fans back. It’s good to see the fans that were here, and you see how excited they are.
I think our sport is really healthy. It’s very competitive. It’s just super competitive. I think we’ve got a bright future ahead of us and a lot of young talent.
Q. With Jimmie departing and Chad moving off the pit box, how important was this win for Hendrick Motorsports as a whole moving forward, and is there a new sense of leadership?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, for sure. Alan is one of our senior guys, probably the most senior crew chief. Chad has done an excellent job. But now he can help all the teams being the competition director. Alan still wants to be a crew chief. He’s got a real horse in Chase.
You know, we split those guys up, Jimmie and Chad. But to go to the racetrack in Daytona next year and not seeing Chad on the box and Jimmie in a car is a big adjustment.
I went through it with Jeff Gordon, I went through it with Dale, went through it with Terry Labonte and a lot of other drivers along the way. You have to adapt and change.
I think the good news is that Chad is moving up to help the whole organization. He’s not leaving. He’ll be there.
Jimmie wants to do some things and has a bucket list that he wants to go after, so we’re all happy for him and his family.
I feel good about our company. We’ve got young crew chiefs, young drivers, and they’re super competitive. I think we’ll be good for years to come.
Q. 13th title for you. I’m sure that each one is special to you in their own way, but this is the first title you’ve won with a driver whose father was also a NASCAR Cup champion. What does this title mean to you to see Chase Elliott win the same title that his legendary father did?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I think what’s so exciting today is to see how excited Bill was and Cindy. You don’t see Bill get excited very much. Man, he was pumped. I thought that was super special.
I think there’s only been three father son champions. It’s special to be able to be a part of that.
Again, Bill and Cindy did a great job with Chase. He’s a racer. Smart. He’s just so much like his dad. He understands the chassis, understands the car, super laid back. When I say ‘laid back’, not driving the car, but they let their actions on the track do the talking for them, which I’m impressed with the way Chase is. He doesn’t let it get to his head.
He’s the same kid that he’s way more mature, but he still loves the people, thanks the team. Just a great young man. He’s going to be a great ambassador for our sport being a champion this year.
Q. Today was a bit of an end of an era for another driver in that Alex Bowman will be moving from the 88 to the 48 next season and also that you will have two other young drivers on your side in Kyle Larson and William Byron. What can you say about the job Alex has done, and what’s the biggest lesson you’re going to take from this unusual season into navigating the future?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think what you have to do, what everybody in the sport has had to do was call an audible. You had to change on the fly. You had to run races in the middle of the week.
But I do like our lineup for next year. I like all of the drivers and crew chiefs. I think Alex has done a super job. I’m super happy, too, that Ally likes Alex and wanted him to take over the reins of the 48. Pretty excited about that.
And Alex has really shown a lot of talent, so I’m excited about watching him. And William, he won his race this year. He was running really good today. I think he finished sixth. I think it was sixth, I believe. Putting he and Rudy together again, I think that’s going to be exciting.
Larson, we know what he can do. He and Cliff will be a good combination.
I’m excited about next year.
THE MODERATOR: Mr. H, thank you so much for taking some time with us. We will let you go. Congratulations and have a great off season.
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