*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.
Is Rick Hendrick the greatest NASCAR team owner of all time?
Richard: In his post-race media availability at Darlington on Sunday night, Southern 500 winner Kyle Larson stated that, “Rick has stamped himself as the greatest owner of all time.” That statement came as the result of a media member pointing out that Hendrick Motorsports is on the brink of reaching 300 NASCAR Cup Series wins.
This seems like one of those questions that needs to have a two-part answer because the eras of NASCAR racing are so different. The model of racing ownership in today’s version of the sport calls for the top organizations to house two, three or even four cars under their umbrella where the model of decades ago called for each owner to only have one car on the track at a time.
Years ago, a question such as this would have generated answers such as Petty Enterprises, Junior Johnson or the Wood Brothers. But that is a bygone era.
Nowadays, owners such as Hendrick, Joe Gibbs and Roger Penske put multiple cars on the track at once and often times multiple cars in the NASCAR Playoffs as well. It’s an entirely different game than what was once the case.
All that said, it’s hard to disagree with Larson’s statement. Not only has Hendrick amassed 299 victories but his drivers have earned a total of 14 Cup championships. And those numbers are likely to climb much higher in the coming seasons. Yes, the Pettys, Johnson and the Woods were great owners in their day, but Hendrick’s achievements outshine them all if all eras are to be combined.
Michael: The one thing about Hedrick Motorsports is the long period of time they’ve had success as the sport continues to change. His teams have been winning races for almost 40 years going through several generations of Cup cars. While some owners achieved success during one or two of those generation of Cup cars, most could not maintain it. Jack Roush’s organization is one that comes to mind.
As much as the wins mean something, the championships are as impressive if not more impressive. Joe Gibbs Racing has seen a lot if wins during the same period of time, but they haven’t won as many titles as the Hendrick organization. In this era of NASCAR, Hendrick has to be the best owner of this generation.
Who has the most to lose in the two races that will close out Round 1 of the Playoffs?
Richard: There were several names that immediately popped into my mind when I first thought of this question. Kevin Harvick is now below the cutline in his final season as a full-time driver. Defending champion Joey Logano is barely above the line following a lackluster run at Darlington. And after last season’s wild ending, many were expecting Ross Chastain to be a bigger threat for the title than he has shown so far.
Ultimately though, I am going to say that Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell, who are above the line but only by small amounts, have the most to lose in these next two races. For the past few seasons we have been told these two are going to be multi-race winners and championship contenders for years to come but aside from Bell’s late season heroics in 2022, it just feels like neither has fully lived up to that billing.
Yes, Bell made it into the Championship 4 last year but he hasn’t followed that up this season with multiple wins, at least not yet. After starting from the pole in the Southern 500 the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota seemed to go from one issue to another before settling for a 23rd place finish.
All that said, however, I am going to give Bell a pass because of his late charge in 2022.
Although Blaney has a bit of a cushion above the cutline, he is definitely not assured of a second-round position by any means. Despite driving for powerful Team Penske, he has only had one season in which he has won multiple races and he has never advanced to the Championship 4. At almost 30 years old, it seems like it’s about time for him to make a run which is why he has to get out of the first round, in my opinion.
Michael: I think drivers like Logano, Harvick, and Busch will be fine because of how well they run at Bristol.
I picked Chastain to miss the cut to the next round. I don’t think he’s out of the woods yet. Blaney is such an enigma because he’s fast most places, but something usually keeps him from winning races. He’ll be fast at Kansas. But can he avoid the big mistake and turn in a good finish there?
Poor Bell continues to be bitten by the pit crew mistakes despite changing crews with Ty Gibbs. I think that’s what hurts him more than what he does or doesn’t do on the track.
What driver outside the Playoffs could play the role of spoiler at some point in these final nine races?
Richard: Last year, Chris Buescher won at Bristol from outside the Playoffs taking a potential free pass into the next round away from a contender. Names that readily come to mind are, of course, Chase Elliott at just about any remaining track, and A.J. Allmendinger on the Charlotte Roval.
Chase Briscoe and Aric Almirola had strong cars at Daytona which means they should also be tough at Talladega as well. Also, I would not be shocked to see Ty Gibbs pull off a win late in the season. But of all of those, I think the obvious choice is Elliott although I think he would be a good team player if an HMS car needed a push on a restart or some such circumstance.
Michael: I also agree that Elliott could be a spoiler. But another driver I’d keep an eye on is Erik Jones. It looks like whatever issues his team had earlier in the season and starting to go away. Of course, he’s also good superspeedway racer.
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