This time there was no milk and cookies involved.
NASCAR team owner and Hall of Fame member, Rick Hendrick held a meeting this past week in an attempt to ease the tension between his two top drivers, both of whom happen to be the Cup champions for the past two seasons.
Pressure began to mount last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. Chase Elliott was leading in the early going when his Chevy hit the wall. He was forced to slow and pit for repairs. He then began to try and rally back through the field.
Meanwhile his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kyle Larson, was taking control of the race. Elliott caught the lead group and with 20 laps to go during a three-wide battle for the lead, Larson moved up and into Elliott pinching Elliott’s Chevy into the wall.
“What the f—k is he doing, man? It wasn’t even close,” Elliott shouted to his team over his in-car radio.” … It’s probably going to break again before the end of the race. But I don’t really give a f–k who is leading the race.”
Sunday Hendrick Motorsports general manager Jeff Andrews said he talked to Elliott after the race and there would be meetings in the coming week.
Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Larson said the meeting did in fact happen, and admitted it was a bit awkward, at least from his perspective.
“Well from my spot, it’s always going to be awkward,” Larson said. “But it was a good meeting to have. Rick (Hendrick) called a meeting with all four teams and just kind of reiterated his expectations with us drivers. It’s good to get those reminders every now and then and continue to race good in the future with each other. I’ll catch-up more with Chase (Elliott) here in a little bit and we’ll be good.”
Team owner Hendrick getting involved in a meeting is indeed a rarity. At the end of 2020, when Jimmie Johnson, who won seven titles for Hendrick Motorsports, was nearing the end of his fulltime NASCAR career, Hendrick relayed a story how a meeting he had with Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus at the end of the 2005 season. The two had been fighting amongst themselves and seems destined to split.
Rick Hendrick would have none of it.
“They were so uptight when they came in,” Hendrick said in Nov. of 2020. “We started talking. I had the gallon of milk and the cookies. I said, ‘We’re going to have some cookies and milk, then we’ll sit on the floor and have a little bit of peace time here’. They started laughing. When they started laughing, I said, ‘Look, you know how close you guys are at fixing this. You don’t know what is around the corner, but you can fix this if you work together. I think you’re going to be great’. They laughed. ‘Hey, tell me what you don’t like about him. Tell me what you don’t like. Chad, what is rubbing you wrong with Jimmie? Jimmie, what is rubbing you?’”
Johnson and Knaus stayed together, and that season, 2006, they would win their first title together.
There were no milk and cookies this time; since NASCAR is in the midst of its West Coast swing, the meeting was virtual. However, it still seems to have had an impact of Larson.
“I haven’t been there but a little over a year now; so as far as I can remember, that’s the only meeting since I’ve been there that Rick (Hendrick)has been a part of in that sense,” Larson said Saturday. “He’s been to competition meetings and stuff like that, and we’ve had multiple meetings about different things. But as far as racing and stuff, that’s the first one I can remember him getting involved in.
“I think we all know his expectations and after the incident last week, it was good for him to get involved again and tell us what the expectations are.”
After qualifying second for Sunday’s race on Saturday, Larson confirmed that he and Elliott had met face to face.
“I got to talk to him and we got to go over what happened from each of our vantage points,” Larson said. “It was good to have a conversation and good to hopefully move along from it. It went well; honestly better than I anticipated. He’s a great teammate and I’m going to do my part to be a great teammate each and every week. Hopefully we never have any incidents happen again like what happened last week.”
Larson added that he feels that Elliott understood what had happened, and that it was not intentional.
“Yeah, I felt like he was,” Larson said. “I was encouraged by that. Like I said, he’s always been a great teammate. We’re both young and we’re both going to be fighting for wins together. So, hopefully nothing like that happens again.”
Elliott qualified fifth Saturday, but will have to start from the rear on Sunday after failing pre-qualifying inspection.
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