HMS playing catchup as ’19 beckons

CONCORD, N.C. – It’s mid-January and it’s cold outside in spite of the bright sunshine and maybe a lot of folks haven’t given much thought to the start of the NASCAR racing season.

Those folks don’t work at Hendrick Motorsports or any of the other racing shops located in the Carolinas.

On this Tuesday, indoors and out of the cold, Jeff Andrews, vice president of competition for Hendrick, is leading a group of media members on a tour of the complex and one begins to wonder how these folks ever lost a race.

The HMS campus is big and if you took all the square footage from all the buildings here and added it all together it would be a rather large and rather impressive number indeed. Hundreds of thousands of square feet.

Still, it’s hard to picture that in one’s mind, so consider this: to get from Point A where the tour began to Point B, the first stop, everyone boards a bus. See what I mean? It’s that big.

But size and success don’t always go hand in hand. Hendrick Motorsports fields four full-time teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and in 2018, only one of the four went to victory lane – that of three-time race winner Chase Elliott.

It was the first since 1993 that the Hendrick organization won fewer than four races.

For a group that has won an average of eight races per season since then, the outcome was surprising and disappointing and some will tell you it was an aberration.

Perhaps.

The driver lineup, which consisted of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, Xfinity series champion William Byron, Elliott and Alex Bowman, was younger than any Hendrick lineup that came before it.

The organization was one of several making the switch from the Chevrolet SS to the new Camaro ZL1.

The on-site optical scanning station, similar to that used by NASCAR to inspect cars at the race track, wasn’t installed and operational until mid-season. Other equally elaborate in-house inspection processes may have been too restrictive, according to some HMS officials.

But that was ’18 and Tuesday was all about ’19 and you can tell just by wandering the halls of HMS that the organization’s struggles were not due to a lack of effort or equipment.

• The gym is buzzing with activity as crewmen work on strength and conditioning and coordination under the watchful eye of Andy Papathanassiou, the director of human performance, and his staff. College teams likely don’t train any harder and the facilities, which include inside and outside workout areas, are first-rate.

• The chassis shop is an assembly line of noise as employees cut and weld and grind all while keeping one eye on the calendar. New cars are being built, others carried over from the previous season are being refurbished. Daytona is just around the corner.

• Things are just as busy in the CNC shop where multiple pieces of machinery form and fashion a variety of parts and pieces – and that, not coincidentally, leads right into the engine shop where dynos are running and engines in various stages of completion line the walls and the hallway.

The Hendrick engine department supplies the pieces for its own four teams, and two additional two-car Monster Energy Cup Series teams. It also supplies engines for five NASCAR Xfinity Series teams. Its’ busiest time of the year seems to be whatever time of year it happens to be.

• Because there are no longer separate shops housing two teams each on the HMS campus, cars for all four Cup teams eventually wind up in what was once known as the 48/88 shop. The OSS is located here and it handles a hefty workload as cars are scanned multiple times while they go through various stages of being built.

• The paint shop is down the hallway and there are research and development areas elsewhere and there’s administration and the museum/team store and you look around and suddenly it’s not hard to understand why there are some 600 employees here.

HMS is not the only big racing operation in NASCAR; there are others that are as big and there are those that are smaller and teams from both groups have been just as successful at one time or another.

But Hendrick teams have won more than 250 races and last season the group struggled as a whole and that caught a lot of folks around here off guard.

Maybe it shouldn’t have. HMS has seen its win total drop for four consecutive seasons as others have stepped up and improved their own teams. Wins and championships have gone elsewhere.

But this is 2019 and there’s a season full of opportunities just ahead. The HMS campus is bustling, racing to catch up and get ahead at the same time.

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