Hendrick Motorsports President: No changes in driver policy
For the second time this season, Hendrick Motorsports will begin a series of races with one of its drivers sidelined by injury.
Alex Bowman was hurt in a sprint car race Tuesday and is expected to miss several weeks. He will be replaced by Josh Berry, who also served as Hendrick’s “super sub” when Chase Elliott missed six weeks after fracturing his leg in a snowboarding accident.
Despite the difficulties associated with those two situations, Hendrick Motorsports President Jeff Andrews said Saturday the team has made no changes in its policy toward its Cup drivers participating in other forms of racing. Andrews added, however, that another incident might spark changes.
“Whenever our drivers come forward with schedules for extracurricular racing and things they’re going to do -- whether it be the Chili Bowl in the offseason, William (Byron) has been running a late model and, of course, Kyle (Larson) with his sprint car series -- those schedules are reviewed. The message from Mr. (Rick) Hendrick is, ‘I don’t want to stop those things, but be careful,’ ” Andrews said at Dover Motor Speedway. “Understand what the most important thing is and the most important thing for Hendrick Motorsports is the results here on Sunday. So we’ll always keep that at the top of the list. Again, we may take a look at this if it happens again. We’ll have to.”
Drivers who frequently race outside NASCAR say they gain from the experience in ways that boost their Cup efforts.
“I think the differences between real life situations and simulators is entirely different,” Kyle Busch said Saturday at Dover. “The G-forces, the acceleration, the adrenaline of it, all that sort of stuff.
“For me, I’ve raced super late models before and micros now probably more recently with the dirt game with (son) Brexton doing what he does. It’s the enjoyable nature of being a race car driver and running various series and race cars. ... Does a micro give you anything for a Cup car? No, not really. It gives you a sense of competition. and getting out there and stacking yourself up against other top talent.”
Hendrick Motorsports, which once barred its drivers from competing in most forms of racing beyond NASCAR, has been more open in recent years, allowing Kyle Larson and Bowman to run sprint and midget cars, William Byron to run Late Models and Chase Elliott to run a variety of cars.
“From our perspective, we have to evaluate and understand what is the right balance,” Andrews said. “We certainly don’t want to tell them no to something that might help them here on Sunday. As a company, we’ll just continue to look at it, continue to talk to our guys and make sure we’re making the right decisions together.”
Chase Elliott said the two Hendrick driver injuries happening so close together is “obviously very, very poor timing with where I was at and just coming back, and obviously, Alex being hurt this week. Look, I get it, it’s a bad look. I totally understand that. But also, I understand there is a timing piece to that and it’s just really poor timing. I think if one happened this year and the other happened next year, would we be having the same conversation? Probably not.”
Although time in driving simulators is important, Andrews said time on race tracks is more productive.
“Our guys will tell you it’s completely different,” he said. “The simulator is close specifically to this series and the racing in general, and some of our guys enjoy that involvement.”
Racing in other series and at other venues has taken on added importance since NASCAR eliminated or trimmed practice for Cup drivers.
Four years ago, Cup teams had 150 minutes of practice spread over two days before the spring Dover race. This weekend, team will be divided into two groups, and each will have about 25 minutes of practice.
Track time also has been trimmed by reduction of some race lengths.
Time in simulators can’t replace real-time action and side-by-side racing on tracks.
On another front, Andrews said Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR are “very involved” in working through the Talladega Superspeedway accident last week in which Ryan Preece slammed at near full speed into the passenger side of Kyle Larson’s car, bending the protective frame inside the car.
Andrews said Hendrick team members, including Larson, were at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, Monday morning as NASCAR officials looked over the damaged car.
“Kyle wanted to see the car and sit in the car,” Andrews said. “They went through an initial evaluation. The car went through somewhat of a disassembly process so more of it could be looked at. From this point, it’s going to be the industry working together to understand and figure out what we can do to figure out how to keep that from happening. NASCAR is very involved, very concerned. I’m sure there will be a lot of discussions.”
Andrews said there are no changes in the car structure for this weekend.