NASCAR Mailbag: Will Kyle Larson vs. Chase Elliott Become a Long-Term Problem for Hendrick Motorsports?

We’re a week away from the attention shifting to just 16 of the three-dozen NASCAR Cup Series drivers. They’re the elite who are moving into the playoffs. Chief among them are the past two champions, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, who got a jump on hogging headlines with what transpired on the final restart last weekend at Watkins Glen.

Their relationship at Hendrick Motorsports leads off this week’s mailbag.

Is there room for two alphas on one team? Will Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott learn to get along, or does Hendrick Motorsports have a problem on its hands? (From S.T. via Proton mail)

Ronald Reagan used to say, “Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” was the 11th Commandment in party politics. The NASCAR version is something along the lines of: “Thou shall not wreck a teammate.”

Kyle Larson walks in front of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott before the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 on Nov. 7, 2021, at Phoenix Raceway.
Kyle Larson, right, has cost Chase Elliott two shots at winning already with the NASCAR Cup Series season only two-thirds complete. | Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nearly everyone conforms … until there’s a vacant U.S. Senate seat or a checkered flag within reach.

The problem facing Hendrick Motorsports is Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are highly talented drivers in top equipment, meaning they’ll be racing for wins a lot. They were presumably reminded of that in the Monday drivers’ meeting after Larson forced Elliott wide at Watkins Glen, and the odds are they can peacefully co-exist through Martinsville on Oct. 30 because the objective is to get both to the Championship 4.

That being said, neither wants to surrender his alpha card by backing down at crunch time in a race.

Unless both are first caught on the bubble in a playoff elimination race, Phoenix on Nov. 6 becomes the next potential problem. If they’re in close confines there while in the mix for the win and the championship, then Larson’s potentially got a problem; Elliott still owes him for Fontana, where the No. 5 Chevy carelessly walled the “9” with 21 laps to go.

On one hand, Elliott wants his second championship in three years. On the other hand, neither he nor anyone else in the organization wants to go through the three months of the offseason with an unresolved issue.

At least half the teams in Formula 1 have the same problem where two drivers relatively close in ability want the other guy to stay the hell out of the way. Barring some incident that unites them (I.e., one of them walling Ross Chastain to avenge the other’s misfortune in dealing with the No. 1 Chevy), figure on an uncomfortable coexistence for a long time.

What’s with the hatred of Kyle Petty? Whenever you guys write anything about him, the comments on Facebook trash the guy. I happen to like him on TV, where he’s a lot better before and after races that Dale Jr. is during it. (From G.P. via Yahoo mail)

I don’t get it either, Geoff.

I’m biased, particularly after Petty graciously reworked his schedule to sit down for an interview in the spring, but I liked his TV work long before. He picks up on key developments during races and explains them concisely, and his delivery is wonderful because he can be both folksy and funny without being corny.

I worked at FoxSports.com for seven years, and lead NFL and MLB play-by-play guy Joe Buck always attracted the same hatred and to a greater degree because Super Bowls and the World Series are among the biggest assignments in television.

Without a doubt, the stupidest criticism of Petty is that he “only” won eight Cup Series races, which is eight more than basement boys ever won. The combination of 30 years in the sport’s top series plus growing up in the greatest racing family in NASCAR history gives Petty a depth of knowledge that few still involved in the sport can match.

As for Dale Jr. on TV, someone at NBC should decide whether he’s the play-by-play guy or the race analyst. He tries to do both most weeks, and it’s suffocating. I’ve been told I have a face made for radio, but he has a voice made for writing columns.

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Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected]

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