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Toby's Take: Rick Hendrick's Relentless Vision of Teamwork Leads to Hendrick Top-3 Sweep at Martinsville

Since moving to a multi-car team in 1986, Rick Hendrick has preached teamwork within Hendrick Motorsports. Sunday, it paid off with a 1-2-3 sweep at Martinsville.


hero image for Toby's Take: Rick Hendrick's Relentless Vision of Teamwork Leads to Hendrick Top-3 Sweep at Martinsville

As William Byron and Rudy Fugle utilized a perfect strategy of coming to pit road a lap earlier than the competition on the final round of pit stops in Sunday's Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway, the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team was able to secure the storybook finish for the race team celebrating it's 40th Anniversary.

Byron, who had started 18th on the day in his special Ruby Red No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, looked to be heading toward a top-five finish, which would have been a fine result, but the strategy call by his crew chief helped him leapfrog to the race lead. This put Byron in control of the race, and he sealed the deal in an overtime finish, taking his third win of the season.

But had Fugle not called Byron to pit road a lap earlier than the competition to gain him the advantage of a faster lap around the 0.526-mile short track with fresh tires which gained him the lead, Hendrick Motorsports still had the field covered as Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott came home behind Byron in second and third.

Hendrick Motorsports and its four teams work so closely together and share information possibly better than any other team in the NASCAR Cup Series today. It's not a coincidence that HMS swept the top three finishing positions, and had all four of its cars inside the top 10 of the final running order in Sunday's race.

What you saw on Sunday was the realization of the vision that Rick Hendrick had for Hendrick Motorsports back when the team worked through humble beginnings on its path to becoming the juggernaut that it is today.

"The reason all four cars are running so well right now is the crew chiefs and the drivers are working really well together," Hendrick said in a media availability on Monday. "You've got Chad [Knaus] in there. And they're sharing, and they're attesting and doing things together, and it just makes us stronger with a unit. When you put four smart people up against one or two, they're going to win."

In the beginning, Rick Hendrick had big dreams for All-Star Racing, the team that eventually became the winningest organization in NASCAR Cup Series history, Hendrick Motorsports.

Legendary crew chief Gary Nelson, who served as the crew chief for Geoff Bodine and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team in 1986 and 1987, says that Hendrick told him his vision as he was looking to build his race team in 1983.

Nelson, who felt Hendrick was trying to lure him away from Bobby Allison and DiGard Racing told Hendrick that he was happy with where he was and that he wasn't looking to change teams. Hendrick assured Nelson that he wasn't trying to take him away from the proven DiGard team, but he simply wanted Nelson's advice and feedback as an established crew chief in the sport.

An intrigued Nelson listened.

Nelson says Hendrick explained to him that he dreamt of building a team with the best equipment, the best driver, the best crew chief and he ultimately wanted to build a massive compound with the best facilities of any race team in the sport.

What Hendrick was preaching sounded great. It sounded like a racing utopia. But Hendrick didn't even have land to build his empire upon.

For Nelson, it likely felt like the age-old story in motorsports, where a big businessman comes in talking a big talk before they ultimately fall short of their promises. But Hendrick, unlike many who had come before him, backed up the talk.

After scouting out pieces of undeveloped farmland for his race shop, Hendrick settled on purchasing land from crew chief Harry Hyde directly in Concord, North Carolina. Hyde's land, which has since turned into the massive campus for the Hendrick Motorsports team, was secured.

A couple of years later, Hendrick had a radical idea of fielding a multi-car team, something not very common practice in the 1980s.

"Yeah, you know, it was kind of a transfer from the car business," Hendrick explained. "As I grew in the business on the automobile side, you'd have good people and you'd have another opportunity to give everybody a chance. When I started with NASCAR, [multiple cars] wasn't a plan. The plan was to survive the first year, but then in the second year, we won three races in the first year, and then we had an opportunity with a sponsor. And Tim Richmond was a guy I was talking to in the first year, and it just made sense."

What also made sense was adding Nelson as the second crew chief for his race team as Nelson by the end of 1985, was looking for a new crew chiefing gig.

"He sold me on the idea," Nelson said of Hendrick's multi-car team idea. "Harry Hyde and Tim Richmond were going to run the 25 car, and me and Geoff Bodine were going to run the 5 car. So, I went over and tried to be a teammate. I didn't know how to be a teammate, and Harry didn't. But I realized real quick that it wasn't going to be easy."

Hendrick saw a path to success in an entire organization pulling in one singular direction. But in the early going, the teammate dynamic was a total disaster for Hendrick Motorsports.

"And then Gary came along, I hired Gary," Hendrick recalled, "But we had one team five miles from the other team, I guess it was. So they didn't share anything."

In addition to the No. 5 and No. 25 teams being stationed so far apart on the land, everyone in the NASCAR world was so protective back then. Drivers didn't want their teammates to be as successful as them, and it was the same for the crew chiefs. If someone else had the same, or more success, than you in the same equipment, you could find yourself out of a job.

Hyde would hoard the proven engines, and would not share with Nelson the tricks to building a car that would last for the duration of a 500-mile event. Nelson would hold the keys to building a car with incredible raw speed but often was unable to make it to the finish of the race.

"None of us knew how to be teammates. Everybody wanted to beat everybody. We weren't all pulling for Rick Hendrick to win. We were pulling for our car to win, and Rick would be the guy in the winner's circle with us," Nelson recalled.

Hendrick says that the old-school Hyde refused to acknowledge any ideas from Nelson and the team owner had to devise tricks for Hyde to accept the ideas that Nelson was imploying on the No. 5 car.

"Gary found some stuff in the front end of his car that worked. And I knew if I told Harry to go look at it, Harry wouldn't do it," Hendrick said. "So, I said, 'Okay, Gary, this is what we're going to do.' I said, 'Harry, Gary has a problem with his car. Go over there and look at the front end of his car and see what's wrong with it.' And he's telling Gary all of the stuff that is wrong with the front end, and he goes back and starts putting the same stuff under his car, and we start running really well. That's kind of the way we had to do things back in the day."

While teamwork was a foreign idea at the time in NASCAR, and it was hard to sell to veterans of the sport early on, over the years, Hendrick forged the mentality of team-first. The end result? A legendary run that has seen the organization score 305 NASCAR Cup Series wins, more than any team in NASCAR history.

"He changed the whole sport," Nelson said. "Right now, when I see the teamwork that goes on, it's always going to be a challenge, because your guys are competitive. Your race drivers and the crew chiefs; they want the team to win, but they want it to be their car. But they're now sharing information, sharing data. They put their trucks together in the garages now where they can have their debriefs. I see it all because of Rick, I think he did all of that."

While teamwork was something nearly unheard of and thought of as a radical idea in NASCAR back in 1984, when Hendrick Motorsports was founded, 40 years later, the incredible list of accomplishments for Hendrick Motorsports has undoubtedly realized and surpassed any expectation that Hendrick could have ever bestowed upon the organization back in 1984. It wouldn't have been possible without Hendrick building a team focused on teamwork at its core.

The Hendrick Motorsports team feels like more than a race team, it truly feels like a family. Seeing more than 1,500 Hendrick Motorsports employees and family members celebrate on the frontstretch at Martinsville Speedway following the team's win on Sunday perfectly captured the picture of what is possible when everyone puts their own personal achievements aside for the overall good of an entire team.

Teamwork is the hallmark of Hendrick Motorsports, and it's why they've become the most successful team in NASCAR Cup Series history.

Photo Credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images

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