Hendrick squashes potential feud between Larson and Elliott
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Rick Hendrick spoke and his drivers heard the boss loud and clear.
Hendrick intervened on a competition matter for the first time since Kyle Larson joined the team when he squashed any potential beef between his stars following their run-in last week in California.
Larson, the reigning Cup champion, caused Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s most popular driver, to wreck last week as the two raced for the win. Larson did not see his teammate on his outside and his spotter missed Elliott, too, which led Larson to inadvertently run Elliott into the wall.
Elliott was furious and launched an expletive-filled tirade, while Larson was immediately apologetic.
Hendrick moved fast to ensure the first drama of the season didn’t play out inside his very own building. The owner joined the weekly Hendrick Motorsports competition meeting and made clear his expectations to Elliott, Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron.
“That’s the only meeting since I’ve been there that Rick’s been a part of in that sense,” said Larson, who was hired in late 2020. ”He’s been to competition meetings and stuff like that. And we’ve had multiple meetings about different things. But as far as the 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.”
Larson didn’t get to actually speak to Elliott individually until Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Larson is the defending race winner and looking to start another streak. He was the fourth driver in NASCAR history to win three or more consecutive races multiple times last season as he dethroned new teammate Elliott as champion.
Although they are teammates, Larson and Elliott do not know each other well. Hendrick Motorsports has operated mostly under pandemic restrictions since Larson joined the team and its presented few face-to-face interactions between the drivers.
Larson said of the Hendrick meeting “from my spot, it’s always going to be awkward“ but found Elliott to be professional on Saturday.
“We got to go over what happened from each of our vantage points. It was good to have a conversation and good to hopefully move along from it,“ Larson said. ”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 is listed as the favorite — 7-2 by FanDuel — for the third consecutive week and starts second alongside pole-sitter Christopher Bell on Sunday.
BELL TO THE FRONT
Bell won the first pole of his career in his 75th Cup start, but one of his few true chances to master a qualifying session.
NASCAR set the field by points for much of the last two years because practice and qualifying had been scrapped in pandemic restrictions. The return this year of one short practice session and a shootout-style of qualifying helped Bell finally get to the front.
He turned a lap at 182.673 mph in his Toyota to put the Joe Gibbs entry on the pole. Larson was second, but the parity of the new Next Gen car showed behind the front row.
Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric qualified third in a Ford for Team Penske. Cindric is the first rookie in NASCAR history to lead the Cup points standings for more than one race.