For the better part of 2020, it didn’t appear to be a very memorable season for the once powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports. They started the season with a bit of speed as the #9 and #88 cars had a win apiece, but it quickly fizzled out during the summer months. When it mattered the most though, they made some technical adjustments and showed promising speed during the last ten races of the season, the playoffs. It ended up being enough to win them the championship, and they’ll look to put together an even better season next year. Here’s a breakdown of win expectations for their four drivers in 2021.
#48 Alex Bowman
Expectation: 2-3 wins
Moving to the car of the seven time champion is no easy undertaking, but Bowman will be replacing Jimmie Johnson in the Ally #48. Johnson, having had an outright bad 2020 in his retirement season, will run other series next year. Although the car hasn’t seen victory lane since Dover in 2017, the pressure is still on since you need to succeed if you are coming in for one of the best drivers ever.
Bowman’s singular win last year came at Auto Club before the pandemic shut down sports for a few months. It was recently announced that Auto Club won’t even be run next year due to COVID restrictions in California, but I’d look for him to be competitive at tracks like Michigan, Texas, and Phoenix. With the new agreement for a common Chevrolet engine, the Hendrick cars along with other Chevy teams should improve on intermediate tracks next year. With more raw speed in his car, I’d look for Bowman to pick up a couple wins.
#24 William Byron
Expectation: 1 win
In his third year in the Cup Series, Byron finally picked up his first win ever during the regular season finale at Daytona. In the same week, he announced an extension to drive the famed #24 through 2022. Although it wasn’t his best statistical season by any means having led more laps and a better average finish in 2019, he did have one more top ten and his first win last year.
Byron will be getting an old friend back next year too, with Rudy Fugle announced as his new crew chief. They ran together in the truck series for Kyle Busch Motorsports, winning seven races in 2016 . Fugle is coming in for seven time champion crew chief Chad Knaus, and they’ll look to be just as competitive to an extent next year. The main thing for Byron though is to consistently run well and lead laps. One win is a very fair goal to set for his team next year, because he definitely wants to follow up his winning run at the most well known race track in the country.
#5 Kyle Larson
Expectation: 3-5 wins
The biggest bombshell of the offseason came when Hendrick Motorsports announced they had signed Kyle Larson to drive the #5 car. This was a semi-controversial move considering his suspension this year, but it was the best available ride for a driver of his talents. There is no denying he is one of, if not the most gifted driver in the sport, and his sprint car stats back it up. During his time from NASCAR he racked up win after win on dirt tracks, and proved why he deserves this major equipment upgrade.
Larson spent the last seven years of his career with Chip Ganassi Racing in lesser equipment, but still managed to accumulate six wins. On this new team, he’ll be in a much faster, stronger, and an overall better ride. He’ll almost definitely run strongly during the Bristol dirt race, but will also be competitive on other shorter tracks like Dover and Richmond, both of which where he already has been to victory lane. Larson’s talent is up there with the likes of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, so around three to five wins is a very doable goal.
#9 Chase Elliott
Expectation: 6-8 wins
The reigning champion of the Cup Series is just getting his career started. At only 25 years of age, Elliott is already one of NASCAR’s top drives. Winning three of the last five races en route to a championship proved he can perform when the pressure is on most, especially with two of those races being in win-or-go-home situations. The exchange between him and Jimmie Johnson after his final race and Elliott’s first championship win was a true passing of the torch moment and Hendrick will look to him to be the face of their organization for hopefully the next couple decades.
Elliott is undeniably the best road course racer in the sport. That is a fact, and he currently is on a four race win streak when on road courses. He’s won twice at Watkins Glen, twice on the Charlotte ROVAL, and won the inaugural race on the Daytona road course in August. With seven races on road courses next year, you have to expect him to win at least three or four of those. It would be no surprise to see him win all seven either.
Additionally, he is quietly on the best super-speedway drivers as well. He won Talladega in 2019, and likely would’ve won again last year if it weren’t for a last minute caution. Oh, he also pushed Byron to his first win at Daytona and came home second. As icing on the cake, Elliott also runs very well on short tracks. It looked as if he was going to win the first Bristol race last year, but he won the All Star race there instead. To win himself into the championship race, he won Martinsville in dominating fashion. Elliott should have no problem putting together an even better statistical season than his last, and I could very well see him with double digit race wins next year.
Photo credit: HHP / Harold Hinson