What’s Happening?

Hendrick Motorsports is the most successful NASCAR Cup Series team in recent memory. Since 1995, the team has won 13 of 29 (45% of) Driver’s Championships and 261 races (9 Per Season), which is far and away the best of any race team in the sport over that period. However, having a great race team comes with a good problem, lots of great drivers fighting for the best equipment. Who is Hendrick Motorsports’ number 1 driver heading into 2024?

  • NASCAR is the only sport where you compete against teammates. As a result, competition within race teams can often be as intense as the competition with other competitors. It’s a large reason why Hendrick Motorsports is as successful as it is.
  • Hendrick Motorsports has four proven, race-winning talents on their roster along with two Champions. However, only one driver can be at the top of the heap.
  • Fans often debate about who the top dog truly is at Hendrick Motorsports. With so much great talent, there is a lot of interesting debate to be had here.

Alex Bowman

Frankly, Bowman is the only driver in this team that is clearly not the number 1 driver. He is far from a bad driver as he has 7 career wins over the last 5 seasons, but, he’s not reached the level his teammates have. While Hendrick has won two Championships during this time, Bowman has made the Round of 8 once.

Some of this is down to injuries. He sustained a concussion at Texas in 2022 that derailed his Playoff run, and a back injury in a sprint car accident in 2023 hampered a once-promising season. Still, two consecutive injury-plagued seasons calls his durability into question.

If he wants to become the number 1 driver, he needs to have a HUGE year where he stays healthy. This means multiple race wins, a deep Playoff run, and likely even a Championship 4 appearance or win. While his typical year would be spectacular at other race teams, it’s not enough for a number 1 driver tag at Hendrick Motorsports.

Chase Elliott

Many saw Chase Elliott winning the 2020 Series Championship as a “Changing of the guard” moment. Jimmie Johnson was retiring, and Elliott was there to take up the mantle and lead a new HMS infused with young driver talent to a new Golden Age. So, What happened?

The problem is not necessarily that Elliott has gotten any worse, rather, his teammates have gotten better. Kyle Larson burst through the door and won a Championship over Elliott in his first year with the team. William Byron finally had his breakout season in 2023 as Elliott faltered thanks to an injury and a suspension.

That being said, if you take 2023 out of the equation, Elliott has been spectacular. He made the Championship 4 from 2020-2022, and he was arguably the driver with the best season-long performance in the entire sport in 2022. The talent and track record are there, but, Elliott now has some serious competition for that spot as the top driver for the team.

Kyle Larson

When Kyle Larson joined HMS in 2021, he blew already high expectations out of the water. He won 10 races and the Cup Series Championship. In 2023, he garnered another Championship 4 appearance as he narrowly missed out on the title to Ryan Blaney.

The problem with Larson is that he tends to be a “Boom or Bust” type of driver. In 2021 and 2023 he qualified for the Championship 4, but he failed to get through of the Round of 12 in 2022. He also accumulated 15 DNFs combined between 2022 and 2023. If he isn’t winning, he’s often wrecking.

If Larson wants to be the number 1 driver, he has to become more consistent. Elliott was a consistent Championship 4 contender before getting injured in 2023, and Larson has been off and on since joining HMS. Another Championship 4 appearance and even a Championship crown could cement Larson as the number 1 driver.

William Byron

In 2023, William Byron had a career year with 6 wins and a Championship 4 appearance. He either led or was tied for the lead in the Cup Series in wins, top-5s, top-10s, and average finish. It was the first time since his Xfinity Series days that he was consistently a threat to win week in and week out.

Byron’s problem is performing when it matters most. In 2023, he made the Championship 4 despite an uncharacteristically bad performance at Martinsville, and he and crew chief Rudy Fugle could not keep up with the track in the finale at Phoenix. In 2022, a bad qualifying run spoiled a Championship 4 bid at Martinsville. In this format, it’s more about performing when it matters most than performing throughout the whole season.

Byron has to get over that final hump if he wants to be the number 1 driver. When the chips are down, he has to perform at his very best. If he can do that, then he can be HMS’ number 1 driver.

HMS has perhaps the best problem in the garage with four great race car drivers. Which one is the favorite to be the number-one driver for the team in 2024?