THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. We appreciate you spending some time with us today before we go to Phoenix, obviously an exciting weekend for Hendrick Motorsports. You have Chase Elliott running for the driver’s championship and an opportunity for Kyle Larson to win the owner’s championship. Before we get started with questions, just give us a quick recap of really the team’s journey this year to get to this point and what it means for Hendrick Motorsports to be once again competing for a championship in Phoenix.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, every year you start, you want to race for the championship, and we’ve had a great year. We’ve won 11 races.
It’s that time of year when you go to Phoenix and see what you can do. Thankfully we’ve got two opportunities, one to win the drivers’ championship and the other the owners’.
It’s going to be a hard-fought battle. There are four really good teams and four great drivers. Anything can happen when you go out there in a one-race deal.
We’re excited to have the opportunity. It’s always tough to get there, and if you’ve got a car that’s able to compete there, you’re very fortunate.
We’re excited about the weekend.
Q. Chase has had a little bit of an inconsistent playoffs. There have been several races where he’s been frustrated. I’m curious what type of advice have you been giving him throughout the last 10 weeks?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, he’s won five races, and he’s had some situations where the car wasn’t as good as we thought it would be, and he was frustrated.
But it’s one of those deals that just put all that behind you. You run good at Phoenix, you’ve won that race, you’ve won the championship there. So just go back, the car is going to be good and do your job.
He’s excited. He’s ready. We’ll just put any of the bad luck or inconsistencies we’ve had leading up to this race behind us because it’s all about Sunday.
Q. Have you figured out if Chase wins the drivers’ but somebody besides Kyle wins the owners’, are you going to owe a lot more bonus money than what you’re collecting? Have you had talks yet about how you’ll handle that?
RICK HENDRICK: I’m going to be broke. No, that’s a great problem to have. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But yeah, it’s going to be interesting to watch and try to figure out where we are.
Hey, both guys want to win, and it would be really neat if we could run one-two. But hey, we’re just going to go out and do our best and we’ll see what happens.
Q. As an owner, I know the owners apparently wanted it this way where the money all goes through the owners’ championship, but after now living through this a little bit, do you think there should be separate bonus money for drivers’ championship and owners’ championship?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I think this comes up — what is it, this is the third time maybe? I don’t see them changing anything just because this happened this race.
You know, we just have to wait and see. I think it’s fine like it is. When you saddle up and sign up, you play by the program that’s out there.
I don’t think we need to change anything.
Q. I was just curious, you have some familiar faces that you’re facing off with in the Championship 4 in Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs, but you also have a new face in Justin Marks and Pitbull and the Trackhouse Racing. I just wondered what you thought in general; I know there’s been obviously some hiccups with the Next-Gen car throughout the season, but do you think in the end it has produced kind of more parity throughout the field and helped produce this unusual Championship 4?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, absolutely. The car has made it super competitive on any given day, anybody can win. You’ve seen all these different winners this year. Nobody has really just dominated the sport. The parity is really unreal.
I think NASCAR got what they wanted. We’re all trying to figure it out a little bit better each and every week. But boy, you just look at the lead changes and how many people are up there running up front, and you always expect to see coach up there and Roger, and Trackhouse has done an unbelievable job.
And you look at other teams like Petty and I think Brad and his team, they’re going to be contenders next year.
So I think it’s leveled the playing field, and it’s good for the sport. I think the fans love it.
I sometimes look back and like the old way, but it’s good for the sport.
I think Sunday could be — just like always, a pit stop, somebody hits the air pressures right, cautions fall at the right time, you just have to run it and see how it ends up.
But there are four really, really good drivers in that race. You know, it’s just going to be hard to pick a winner in there. Of course I hope our guys are the ones that win it.
But it’s going to be a good show. It’s going to be a hard-fought show.
Q. A quick non-Cup question: You dabbled back into the Xfinity Series for the first time in a few years this year. Do you expect you might be doing more of that next season?
RICK HENDRICK: Some of it but not a lot of it because I’m involved with JRM, and that’s our focus up there. But we like to run some road courses, and some of our guys want to run some of the ovals.
We won’t be competing full time at all, just a handful of races. It’s been a lot of fun to watch and bring those colors back. That’s kind of Ricky’s number and colors.
That’s really something that I’ve enjoyed, and we’ll do a few more of those.
Q. This morning on the Morning Drive, Steve O’Donnell was asked about some of the wild finishes and aggression, et cetera, and he said that NASCAR has got their eye on it after the season. They always are watching. But he said it was verging on the wild, wild west. What have you seen, and do you feel it’s been verging on the wild, wild west? Do you think it’s over the top, or do you feel like it’s added excitement? So what do you think about it?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think when you have the cars this close together and as competitive as they are and everybody is running the same speed, you’re going to get that. You’re going to have people pushing and shoving. And man, when it comes down to the last restart, get the people back from the fence.
But no, I don’t think it’s — there’s going to be situations where tempers flare and things happen, but you’re going to see aggressive racing, aggressive restarts. Starting positions are super important. It’s hard to pass when cars are equal.
I think NASCAR has done a good job of stepping in when they need to. But you can’t handcuff the guys. It’s a fine line between too aggressive and pushing someone and wrecking someone.
I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions. I’m upset sometimes, just like everybody else, but they’ve got a tough job to police it and then keep it interesting where the fans enjoy it.
I love to listen to the fans on Monday morning. As long as I’m not in the middle of the controversy.
Q. Which brings us to the point, normally your drivers mind their P’s and Q’s basically. I don’t know if it’s the type of driver that you hire or the maturity that they’re at by the time you get them. We saw Noah Gragson, he’s grown up a lot, seemed more ready now. Is it you don’t like your drivers getting involved in all that, or is it just you happen to hire drivers who don’t?
RICK HENDRICK: I don’t know. I’ve always felt like you race people like you want to be raced, and I don’t try to tell them not to move somebody or — I don’t believe in wrecking people to win a race. I don’t believe in that. Because you live with that weeks after.
I just feel like you race people clean, they’re going to race you clean; and if somebody is better than you are, they win. I’ve been in a situation where I’ve got moved and I’ve had situations where we’ve moved people at Bristol, but not intentionally wreck them.
I think you want aggressiveness, and I think all the guys have to be aggressive on restarts. Again, you can’t give up things in the pits because it’s so hard to pass.
But I don’t believe that you need to wreck someone — bumping them, moving them a little bit, but wrecking them, I don’t want to go there.
Q. Rick, obviously I know that you’re a part owner in JR Motorsports and obviously you guys got three teams in the Xfinity championship, but I know certainly there’s been a lot of talk from Dale and Kelley in the past about looking at trying to move into Cup. If something like that happens, you’ve got to divest from that organization. Is that something that — you guys have a very good thing going right now. Does it make sense at this point to go to Cup for that organization and for you to have to divest? Or is that something you foresee that you’ll have to do at some point?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I think so. I think Kelley and Dale both, I think long-term, they want to be owners in the Cup Series, and I’ll support them any way I can. We’ll have an alliance with them, but I’ll have to divest my interest there, and that’s okay because I think it’s served its purpose in Xfinity races. And now, if they move up into Cup, then I’m ready to step out and help them any way I can.
But I think that’s their long-term goal, and I think they should be in the Cup Series.
Q. Why should they be in the Cup Series?
RICK HENDRICK: Just because of their name and their heritage. I believe that it would be good for the sport to have an Earnhardt owner in the Cup Series.
Q. Also, it’s been talked about with Trackhouse, and certainly I know they’ve benefitted, as others have, with the new car that’s kind of evened things out, and I also understand that it’s the Ganassi organization in some form and fashion. It’s a little bit different and not truly being a true startup. When you look at other organizations, as you study your organization and look the other organizations, are there other clues or tips or things to take from the organization? What do you see out of Trackhouse? What is it making you think about? Are you having to look at things in a different way as they become more competitive and become more of a challenger? I know they’re a partner in the Chevrolet organization, but are they making you look at things in a different way than you have and that’s been a successful blueprint for you through the years?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, I look at Trackhouse and any other competitor that comes into the sport. I think the 23 crowd has shown a lot of muscle. They’re going to be competitors and fierce competitors next year.
I think you’ve got to race everybody now. I’m going to pull for a Chevrolet team if it’s not us for sure, because we’re stronger together.
But Justin has done a great job. He’s got two great drivers. You can’t take anything away from that.
But I look at them like Brad is going to be tough next year, having Reddick over in that Toyota is going to be tough. Hey, you’ve got to race everybody, so it’s going to be a bunch of good cars out there, and we just have to go race and win our share.
But they have done a super job, and I commend them on that. We can’t really look at other people. We just have to get better ourselves. We have to do a better job of figuring out the car and crew chiefs and drivers working together and the whole organization working together.
We’ve won 11 races this year, and you always want to win more, but I’m thankful to win 11.
I see other competitors coming, and you can’t rest on your laurels. We’re going to have to be better.
I think we are better. I think we are getting better every race. Some races don’t show it, but in some areas I think we’ve improved, and then in other areas we need to improve a lot more.
I look at everybody as competition.
Q. I’m also curious, of all the years you’ve been in motorsports and in racing in one form or fashion, have you seen anything like what Ross Chastain did Sunday? Or what’s the next thing that comes close to anything that can compare to that that you’ve seen through your years?
RICK HENDRICK: No, I’ve never — it looked unreal to me because I thought it was speeding up the footage. I thought it was the neatest thing I ever saw until I realized he knocked us out of Chase running for the owners’ championship.
I think that took a lot of guts to do that. I’m not sure it would work out every time. But it was a gutsy move, and he made it work.
Q. You kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, but Kyle fighting for the owners’ championship, Chase fighting for the drivers’ championship, how does that change not just the dynamic of the whole race but the whole week and the week leading up to the race?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, in an ideal situation is if we could go out and run one-two and get them both. But when Kyle got knocked out, I never thought about the owners’ championship at that point, and then he won the race in Homestead and that qualified him.
Then when Chase was bumped out of being able to run for the owners’ championship, then all of a sudden we’ve got a shot to win it with two cars, win owners’ and drivers’.
We’re not going to approach the race any different than we have any week. Both cars are going to try to win. We’ll just go out and do the best we can and see where it all ends up.
We’re going to try to race to win with both cars. That’s the plan.
Q. Obviously Alex is back in the car this weekend after missing those races with his concussion. How encouraging is it to see him back? And with him being back for Greg’s last race as a crew chief, could you touch on what Greg has meant to the organization as he transitions into a new role?
RICK HENDRICK: Greg has been such an important part of our company. When you look at Jimmie Johnson’s success when he was the engineer with Chad and all the success they had, and then he moved up into the crew chief role, he’s done an unbelievable job there.
He wants to come off the road a little bit, and he can be a big asset to Chad in the shop.
We’re going to miss him as a crew chief, but he’ll have so much input to help all the teams. It’s going to make a big, big difference. He’s a super smart guy. He is brilliant in so many ways. I know Alex is excited about being in a car with him for his last race, and I think it’s good that they can be together for this last one.
I’m glad to see Alex back. I’m glad that he feels good and ready to go.
I hope they have a good showing Sunday because it would be nice for them to go out, win the race or have a really good day.
Q. I wanted to follow up on that. Was there any part of you that felt like Alex shouldn’t race because there are improvements to the car coming for next year? Was there any part of you that said, man, let’s not do this?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I’ll kind of leave that up to the doctors and Alex. They cleared him, and he has worked his butt off with that doctor, Dale Yuzmecki [phonetic]. He’s ready, and he wants to do it with Greg for his last race.
If I thought that there was any danger or he should not race, I would tell him, but I leave it up to Alex. He’s the guy that’s got to get in the car, and he feels 100 percent confident that he’s ready, and the doctors have said he should do it. I support them, because he’s got to be the one that makes that decision.
Q. On Chase, after some of these races, he’s like, I’ve got to do better, I haven’t done a good job. At least the way he talks, it seems like he’s trying to take most of the blame. I’m curious, do you say anything to him and/or how do you think he works through these times where he maybe feels like he hasn’t done the job he’s needed to do?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, Chase, if you’ve watched him, he’s always put the burden on himself. When Chase Elliott can’t drive a car because we missed the setup, that’s not his fault. But he will never, ever, ever point a finger at the team. He always takes it on himself.
I’ve talked to him a lot about it. I think he just feels like he can carry it; if he doesn’t, he’s failed. I admired that about him to a certain point. I see so many drivers get out and blame the car for everything, and he will never do that.
But his confidence is high, and I think he’s so competitive, he just wants to be there for the team and the organization and for himself. He knows how good he is.
And I’ve talked to him several times this week. He’s ready for this race. He wants to win another championship, and Alan is burning up to win another one, too.
I think once he gets out of the car, you’re seeing just a little bit of frustration on where they’ve finished rather than — he’s just disappointed. But he does carry a lot of the load that he doesn’t need to carry.
Q. Chase and Larson have had their issues during the season, after Watkins Glen, the Fontana thing a little bit, as well, but it seems like that went away quietly to the point where even Larson gave up his pit stall for Chase at Martinsville. Looking back, how did you navigate that? How did you get through that situation with those guys?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, my position has always been, and I’ve been doing this now almost 40 years, so I’ve been through these before, and you’ve got to address them immediately, and you’ve got to — the crew chiefs, the drivers, the whole organization has to know that we’re stronger together. You’ll never tear us down from the outside. It’ll always come from the inside.
If you let things like that fester — it takes weeks to get the emotion out of it, but as I’ve seen them in debriefs working together and the example of what they did at Martinsville shows that, hey, we can help each other, and we can race each other clean, and we don’t need to put ourselves in that position.
But we’re not going to dwell on it. We’re going to move on.
I’ve even seen some teams that like controversy inside the team. I don’t, and I don’t want to ever see that, and I work really hard to make sure that we’re not in that position.
You know, it takes a little time for everybody to get their feelings under control, but if you look at the success of the organization and you look at how we’ve proven that working together we’re stronger, then you can’t let something like that fester too long and create a problem that tears down the organization. So we’re not going to let that happen.
Q. Do you feel with some of the concussions that we’ve seen, and you’ve been through it with Alex, and there’s been talk with the young drivers, some of them with the hard hits, maybe would be afraid they’d lose their ride or not want to speak up, do you feel the onus is on the young driver and also then the part of the owner, they feel they might lose their ride if they do speak up? Even for an Alex Bowman. Can you address that a little bit and what your thoughts are on it?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, I think the last thing as an owner you want a guy to get in a car that’s not ready to go. If he even have a hint that he’s got an issue, then their careers is more important than a race or two.
I feel like I want a guy 100 percent, totally feeling good about getting in that car, because when you get — when you strap in one of those and you’re not ready, then you’re going to get hurt. Because you’re looking at just a tenth of a second between everyone. And if a guy is not there, he starts driving defensively, and then he’s going to get hurt.
I want all of our guys to be checked out, and if they’re not ready, we just sit out because there’s more to life than that one race. I love the idea that you get the best doctors in the country to give them exercise and help them get back strong and ready to go. You don’t want to have any opportunity to do any more harm.
I think every young guy should raise their hand and not be afraid because if you get back in the car after a concussion too quick and you get another hit, it doesn’t have to be as hard, and then you can be permanently damaged.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, we appreciate your time today. We really are grateful for the time that you’ve given us, and we wish you guys the best of luck this weekend in Phoenix.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports