CONCORD, N.C. – This weekend at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) will see Hendrick Motorsports kick off its second straight year with a partial NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule.
Announced earlier this month, the organization will again run four races in the Xfinity ranks. Saturday’s race at COTA will see William Byron as the driver. The June 10th race at Sonoma Raceway with have Kyle Larson behind the wheel, Alex Bowman will take his turn in the Aug. 19 race at Watkins Glen International and Larson will be back for the Sept. 2 event at Darlington Raceway.
The team will field the No. 17 Chevrolet Camaro with sponsorship from HendrickCars.com. The car number carries a rich history and special significance to organization. NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip drove it to nine wins for the team from 1987 to 1990, including in the 1989 DAYTONA 500. The car number was also driven by Ricky Hendrick in various races, including in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series in 2000 and 2001. This year, the HendrickCars.com paint scheme will again be based on the No. 17 truck driven by Hendrick during his 2001 rookie season.
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“It would mean a lot,” crew chief Greg Ives told HendrickMotorsports.com of being able to get the No. 17 into victory lane and the significance it carries with the Hendrick family. “My son races go-karts and when he wins, that feeling doesn’t come from anybody else. I have a lot of friends that have kids that race. When I see them win, I don’t get that same feeling I get when it’s my kid.
“There’s a bit of emotion in it, but a very significant meaning to have the 17 on the car and the paint scheme. I hope to help recreate that feeling that Mr. Hendrick had when he was racing with Ricky at a young age – seeing those wins and seeing that success.”
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Ives and Kevin Meendering will oversee the effort and both are veterans of the series. Ives was the championship-winning crew chief in the series with Chase Elliott in 2014 and has five wins in the series with Elliott and Regan Smith. He retired from full-time crew chief duties in the NASCAR Cup Series after last season and had 10 wins atop the box in that series – three with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and seven with Bowman. Meendering was the crew chief for all four races last year and guided Elliott Sadler to two runner-up finishes in the standings in 2016 and 2017. He has three wins in the series, which all came with Sadler.
Ives’ involvement in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Garage 56 will see him miss one of the four races. Meendering, who serves a support engineer for the organization, will crew chief that race, while Ives handles the other three. The Michigan native is excited for the three races he has.
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“I like COTA. That is a place we have had success,” Ives said. “Watkins Glen – a lot of fun battles that happen there. It is about pure intensity the whole time. Darlington – a historic place to win. I won there before with Chase Elliott (in 2014) and that would be pretty neat to go back there and get another win. I’ve never won at COTA or Watkins Glen as a crew chief, so it would be pretty fun to make that happen.”
In its history, Hendrick Motorsports has one Xfinity Series championship and 26 wins in the series. Last season’s four races, which were its first since 2009, saw the organization come close to getting back to victory lane in the series for the first time since Tony Stewart won for the team at Daytona International Speedway. The four-race schedule resulted in two poles, two runner-up finishes, three top-fives and 71 laps led.
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“We learned a lot in 2022 and felt the extra seat time was valuable for our drivers,” Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, said. “Bringing back the program was an easy decision, but we know competing at a high level in the Xfinity Series takes a big commitment. We’re going to throw everything we have at these four races. Winning with the No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevy is the priority.”
Strategy always plays a big part in road course races. With stage breaks going away at those races this year – teams will be awarded stage points at a certain lap but the race will remain green – that will be the case even more so.
“You are always hunting for wins, but in the past with the stages, you either pit two or three laps before the end of a stage or you go through to get the stage points,” Ives said. “For us, it is about putting ourselves in a position for the final stage to win the race.”
Tune in on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90) to see Byron and Ives take aim at reaching victory lane.