Who’s Chase Elliott’s largest challenger to Hendrick?

Since 1994, Hendrick Motorsports has arrange a lineup that features at the very least one former champion in his secure. As a complete, the corporate has 13 cup titles – the newest got here from Chase Elliott 2020. (There are seven for Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon with 4 and Elliott went with Terry Labonte with a chunk).

Championship is just a part of Hendrick’s DNA.

Lately, the four-car staff has obtained an infusion of younger folks in its storage with the retirements of the Corridor of Famers or the soon-to-be Corridor of Famers in Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., whereas watching Elliott, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Kyle Larson joins its ranks. The staff now has a collection of 4 drivers who’re 28 years or youthful.

Elliott has risen to the highest of that harvest with 11 wins within the final three years, his 2020 championship run solely cementing it additional. Bowman has given wins in every of the final two years and is recent from one run to the eighth spherical of the NASCAR Playoffs 2020. Byron made his first Cup victory in his third season and appears prepared for a breakout 12 months armed with a brand new however acquainted crew chief. After which there’s Larson, a driver with simple expertise however some off-track baggage after being fired from Chip Ganassi Racing and suspended from NASCAR (then reintroduced) for utilizing a race slur throughout an iRacing occasion in April final 12 months.

With such a proficient trio of teammates, who’s the most important challenger to beat Elliott from the highest of Hendrick perch? NASCAR.com’s RJ Kraft and Pat DeCola debate whether or not that’s doable and who that driver could also be.

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FORCE: Admittedly, will probably be tough to launch Elliott from the highest of Hendrick Mountain. He was the very best driver within the group for the previous three seasons, and that was after they had a seven-time champion every week. With that stated, I feel Larson is Elliott’s largest challenger to Hendrick. There isn’t any doubt about his expertise behind the wheel as he dominated dust tracks all summer season and grabbed his second straight Golden Driller on the Chili Bowl in January. His exile final 12 months was self-expected, and he has taken steps to make amends, recognizing exhausting classes as he rejoins the NASCAR path.

The California native has amassed six wins over the previous 5 years with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the No. 5 Chevrolet within the Hendrick storage is a step up from that experience. I am enthusiastic about how he’ll gel with crew chief Cliff Daniels and the pace that the duo can produce on intermediates. Earlier than a summer season sponge, Daniels and Johnson had some robust outcomes on intermediate.

It may be anticipated that there can be an adjustment interval for Larson when he returns in a inventory automobile with a brand new staff, however I’ve an eye fixed on the Miami-Las Vegas-Phoenix-Atlanta-Bristol dust monitor which is the third via seventh cup race in calendar. I anticipate him to win on certainly one of these programs and ensure he turns into Elliott’s largest challenger.

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DECOLA: Unquestionably, we’ll see Larson shine in spots this 12 months – you are proper about that Bristol dust projection; he must be the favourite proper now – however there’s one other driver I am anticipating to placed on a 2021 present, and that is Bowman.

After getting into the week as a full-time driver for Hendrick 2018 and actually changing the most well-liked driver of all time (as a rookie *, no much less!), “The Showman” has continued to enhance 12 months after 12 months, race after race. A reasonably dominant victory at Auto Membership in the course of the third race of the season predicted a robust marketing campaign, and though he had ups and downs after the restart, he closed the season extraordinarily robust with a median end of 8.33 during the last third of the season. As compared, Elliott’s common objective throughout the identical distance – ie his championship run – was 10.75.

Now staff proprietor Rick Hendrick Bowman leaves to interchange one other legend as he enters Johnson’s acclaimed No. 48 Chevrolet. Do you assume that Mr. H would anybody ask anybody to observe within the footsteps of the couple of the protected Corridor of Famers with out an enormous quantity of thought and care? Not an opportunity.

Bowman has earned Hendrick’s belief over years of affected person dedication to the group, put within the hours of swimming for the staff’s finest, is sponsor – pleasant and, most significantly, continues to hone his craft and get higher and higher on the actual monitor.

Regardless of all this, it seems like Bowman continues to sleep on.

Every thing appears to be rounded off in place for Bowman to have a profession 12 months and maybe set off a brand new No. 48 dynasty. It is too early to say if he’ll take away his teammate, however for me he’s Hendrick’s clear second fiddle in the mean time. I truthfully lean in direction of the truth that the 27-year-old wouldn’t meet expectations if he leads to Championship 4 2021.

* Sure, we all know Bowman was not a 2018 rookie.

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