To make predictions for 2022, the Pit Box Press staff gathered to give their round table predictions.
Today, we’re focusing on Hendrick Motorsports, specifically this set of questions:
Hendrick Motorsports won nearly half the races last season (17), with ten of those seventeen being Larson wins. Do you think HMS will see similar success this season? Will Kyle Larson be able to replicate his 2021 campaign? Will Alex Bowman be able to replicate his four-win season or was it a fluke? Will William Byron be able to build off his strong 2021? How will Chase Elliott fare? What do you think will be key to determining HMS’ success or lack of it? Are there any other storylines from HMS that you think others need to watch?
Walker (@Walker_Skeeter): I don’t see any reason why not. With all of the resources they have at their disposal, and the level of talent within that organization – both on and off the track – they’re as well-positioned as any other team in the field to make the jump to the new car. After last season I see no reason to doubt Kyle Larson. It’s pretty clear to me he’s the most talented driver of the last decade or so, and with him being in the best equipment at Hendrick why wouldn’t he replicate his success? I expect Alex Bowman to fall somewhere in the 3-5 win range, and probably make a solid playoff run. I definitely don’t think his 4 win season was a fluke, he’s one of the best talents in the sport. I expect him to continue improving. I’ll be watching Byron closer than most drivers this year because I’m very curious if he can take that next step or not. He’s been the weak link at Hendrick since arriving, but that’s to be expected with how early he made the jump. I expect him to continue his steady improvement, but if he doesn’t…it may be time to start paying attention to the Hendrick camp’s plans for the 24. Chase will be fine, I expect another championship 4 appearance at least. No matter how successful Kyle Larson is, Hendrick knows Chase is their golden goose. He’ll keep getting the equipment and resources, and he’ll keep winning – no reason to expect any different. I think the key with Hendrick will be the same as with every other team this year – how quickly, and how well can they adjust to the new cars? Like I said earlier, I think with all of Hendrick’s resources and in-house talent, they are well-positioned to be the class of the field this year.
Taylor (@Mashtaylor22): I don’t think so because in some past seasons it seems like one season one team would dominate and then the next season a different team would dominate. I think Larson could try to repeat his championship but he also has a big target on his back and every competitor will do whatever is needed to beat him. I don’t think they will reach or break their 17 win season if Larson goes through a championship hangover like we have seen in the past from other champions, I could see them getting at most 8 or 9 wins. I believe that at least two of those wins will come from Bowman because I believe it wasn’t a fluke and that he could become a threat. Now with the Next Gen car in play they could most definitely win more than 17 races but will they? Probably not and I believe that Byron will have a season similar to last season and I don’t think he is going to improve much for next season.
Kate (@RacingKate): I don’t think HMS will replicate the success of the season, I think they will have a championship hangover and will struggle out of the gate with the Next Gen setups. If anybody at HMS will see consistent success, it’ll be Kyle Larson. I don’t think he’ll see the same level of success that he had in 2021 but I would expect to see him in the late stages of the playoffs. I don’t think Alex Bowman will replicate the four-win season and I’m not sure he should try to. I think Alex Bowman should spend 2022 focusing on finding the consistency that has eluded him. Not saying that he should not try to win races but I think 2021 showed that not having consistency was his weakness, especially when he finished lower in the points than William Byron did – who had three fewer wins (although that could be blamed on NASCAR’s playoff system – that’s a whole separate article). I think William Byron will be able to build on his 2021. He had a consistent season, the crew chief change seemed to do him well. The thing people forget when they express impatience is that coming into the 2022 season, William is still just 24. I would argue that Byron was rushed through the lower tiers and missed crucial development time so when he arrived in the Cup Series, he still had to develop that talent but under more pressure. I think finally, William Byron is starting to put the pieces together, and 2022 will be when things start to click and he will be able to turn his consistency into wins. Chase Elliott is incredibly consistent and I expect to see that from him in 2022 but he also knows how to get hot at the right time, which is how he won the 2020 Championship. I don’t expect a 2021 Kyle Larson type year from Chase but I think he’ll be steady like he has been the last couple of years. The key to Hendrick’s success will be whether or not they have the Next Gen setups right in Daytona. I believe one organization is going to come out of the gate with the set up nailed and whichever team has that, will be wildly successful, at least until the others can catch up. So if it’s HMS that comes out of the gates with the right setup, they could repeat 2021. I also think Bowman’s consistency is something that should be watched. 2023 is Bowman’s contract year and I fully believe that his future at HMS is closely linked to whether or not Ally decides to remain with HMS past 2023. They seem invested in Bowman and in motorsport sponsor however a strong, consistent 2022 will go far in helping Bowman’s case.
Phil (@philenespanol)- We all know Hendrick had a stranglehold on the sport last season, and Larson would have handily won the Championship if points were back to the pre-chase method. Chase had another consistent season and made the Championship 4, Bowman had a career year and Byron showed flashes of why he’s at HMS. I want to be all in on Hendrick this year, but the new car is the wild card here. However I still believe they will be okay. They won’t win 17 races this season, but I could see between 10-12. And if my math is correct, that would be nearly 3 wins a piece for each! Larson defends his title, but it won’t be easy. I don’t see the other drivers that had abnormal seasons being down for too long. Chase would get his normal average of 3 a season and Bowman falls off a small bit, and Byron really breaks out. The key is if they figure out how to make the Next Gen work for them. They have the engine program with RCR now, but RCR also helped to develop the Next Gen car. Does that mean they’ll share secrets? Who knows. And also start watching out to see if Larson has a target on his back from people in his own building. Will Chase fight back or will he go about his quiet consistency? I feel like it’ll be close and it turns into a Johnson/Gordon rivalry by season’s end.
Josh (@JoshuaLeeHost): I believe Hendrick Motorsports will struggle as a whole in 2022 adjusting to the new car. With the last rules package change being 2019, that year was also a struggling season for the team – and it was only changing minor things on the cars. While Bowman, Byron, Elliott, and of course Larson had great performances last season, I don’t think anything will be replicated in the upcoming season nor do I think it was a fluke for any of the drivers. Hendrick will be fighting an uphill battle in the 2022 season.
Garrett (@dic_banjo9): Last season was definitely a Hendrick year. I think they are certainly in line for similar success this season, but the Gen 7 (Sick of saying Next Gen) will supposedly increase parity. I think Kyle Larson leads the way with six wins, Chase Elliott will have four, William Byron will have three. My first hot take is this: Alex Bowman will not win a single race this year. Again, I think that this new car is gonna throw a lot of teams off, and I think after two seasons of over-achieving, Bowman will go through a slump. I still think all four make the playoffs, despite Bowman going winless. As a bonus, I think that Larson, Elliott, and Byron all make the Championship Four. Based on all of this, and the trends, I think Larson is primed for a repeat, but it wouldn’t surprise me if any of the three of them do. Elliott will be his biggest threat to another championship, as I think he will surprise people in the new car, and prove that 2020 was no fluke, he can drive the heck out of a race car. All of Hendrick’s success this season really depends on everyone else who shows up on Sundays. I think they have reached a point like that of the New England Patriots during their run with Tom Brady, where they’re going to race their way and dare the rest of the field to step up to the plate and take the crown from them. In closing, I think Hendrick Motorsports continues their dominant run over the sport. As a fan, I can’t wait to see what the new car has in store for this team and what kind of challenges they will face. I do want to leave with one final, semi-hot take. I think Chase Elliott wins his first Daytona 500 this season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. testing the car at Daytona this past week leaves me to believe that something is in the works to improve the somewhat dormant Hendrick Superspeedway program. I think with that knowledge, Chase adds the Great American Race to his list of achievements.
Gi (@basicallygi): It goes without saying that Hendrick Motorsports had an unprecedented 2021 season. Kyle Larson proved that despite the controversy trailing behind him coming into the season, he still had all the talent and capability to be a championship-caliber driver. Alex Bowman, was the surprise knock-out of the organization this season, wracking up four wins. William Byron showcased perhaps his most statistically consistent season to date, and Chase Elliott backed up his 2020 championship, with another appearance in the championship four. So essentially it is safe to say that all four drivers at Hendrick have the talent and passion to replicate the success that they saw in 2021, but the arrival of the Next Gen Car could be their Achilles heel. The entire objective of the new cup series vehicle was to make a car that was cost-effective and placed all teams on an almost even playing field. With that being said, the parts for the Next Gen Car are currently in limited supply to the teams, as they are all being produced by the same parts manufacturer. So what it really comes down to is how fast the organization figures out the new car, and where they go from there with it, when it comes to setting up their cars and such. If they have a good handle on it during pre-season, or early into the start of the season, it is highly likely that Larson, Elliott, Bowman, and Byron could all could bank off that advantage, but if they don’t figure it out in the early runnings of the season, it may impede any success that they could see in 2022. Overall, all four drivers at Hendrick could have a successful season, Larson I have no doubt will remain their ‘star player’, but all in all, it comes down to if they can figure out the mystery behind the Next Gen car.
Francisco (@cisco_1213): I feel Hendrick Motorsports as a whole will be very successful in 2022. Now trying to replicate their 2021 season, with a single driver getting almost a third of the wins, will be very difficult to replicate. The past few years since Jeff Gordon’s retirement have been a period of change for HMS. Their lineup and how things are conducted are unrecognizable compared to the last time a new car was introduced. 2013, with Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jr. and Kasey Khane can be compared nearly identically to their current lineup; Chase Elliott, while not being their top guy, taking a leadership role similar to Jeff Gordon’s situation, Kyle Larson winning seemingly every week as Johnson did in his prime, William Byron being the subtle backup, not always leading like Chase and Kyle but supporting his teammates, similar to Dale jr. in a way, and the very talented but somewhat underrated Alex Bowman, in a similar way to Kasey Khane. Now whether this is a bad take or not, there is one big factor this year that could make or break any team’s dream of success: the Next Gen car. Unlike in the past, where nearly every team had a very different approach to building their cars, this year every chassis will be basically the same. The only thing separating most cars will be what’s under the hood. Hendrick’s engines are undoubtedly fast, so will this be where most of their success stems from? I feel the 2022 season will be similar to what we saw at the start of 2021, with an unexpected winner for a few races, and the big teams not getting 7, 8, 9, etc. wins for their drivers. Maybe the most wins a team could get is 3, we just don’t know how big of an equalizer the new chassis will be. Long story short, Hendrick will be successful in 2022, but how successful is to be determined.
Madelyn (@mlbmadelyn): I certainly don’t think that anything about Hendrick’s 2021 season was a fluke. They have always been a successful team, and 2021 showed that with the perfect combination of drivers, crew members, and equipment, they could consistently be the top team. While Kyle Larson had never before experienced a season quite like his 2021 campaign, he’s certainly no stranger to winning. With his vast experience in dirt racing and seven years of Cup Series racing under his belt prior to 2021, the No. 5 car was the final touch he needed to become the champion we know today. With that pressure off of his shoulders now, he can relax and just race. I think the same is true for Alex Bowman. He’s always been an extremely talented driver, and was finally able to shut up some of the haters in 2021 with four wins. Looking back at his past stats, he’s shown steady improvement since his rookie year in 2014. This lead to his best season yet in 2021, and he can only grow more from here. I think that 2022 will be another strong year for Bowman and he may even find himself in the Championship 4 at the end of the season. I believe that we will see more out of Chase Elliott this year than we did last. Although he by no means had a bad season, he was definitely a bit more quiet than he was in his Championship winning 2020 season. I think that since he’s had an entire year to figure out his teammate in the 5, he’ll be much more competitive and find himself in victory lane more than twice. I think he will once again be a Championship contender and maybe even a repeater. Someone I would like to see a bit more from is William Byron. Although he had a great building season last year, I think he needs to put that to work in 2022. He started the 2021 season on the wrong foot, but immediately turned that around and won at Homestead. However, that win – in the third race of the season – was his only. With 11 top-fives including three runner-up finishes, I think he’s got what it takes to be a fierce competitor. He just needs to beat his teammates first. Although it’s not really proven to be an issue in the past, I think that the Hendrick Four need to compete hard against each other, but not so hard that it knocks them out. Each of the drivers know how competitive and talented the others are, and they can’t let that get to them. If that means working together then that’s what they have to do. At the end of the day, the goal is another championship for Mr. H, and I think that these four will do whatever it takes to get him one.
What are YOUR predictions for HMS in 2022? Let us know on Twitter!
Featured photo from HendrickMotorsports.com