Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott are the current top two drivers at Hendrick Motorsports and also two of the top drivers in NASCAR in the primes of their careers. Which ends up higher on the all-time wins list could be one of the next great long-term, head-to-head battles in the sport.
Larson, 30, is the older of the two, with Elliott only 27 years old, but they both have the same number of full-time seasons on their resumes. His 19 career Cup Series wins still edge Elliott by one at the moment, but they are both set up well to substantially increase those totals in coming years.
Kyle Larson spent years at Chip Ganassi Racing before his breakout at Hendrick Motorsports
Larson had a somewhat slow start to his career. He spent his first six full-time campaigns in the No. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing and compiled six wins. He had only one season with multiple wins, as he went to Victory Lane four times in 2017. A racially insensitive remark during a streamed online race amid the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 cost him his ride at CGR four races into the Cup Series season.
NASCAR suspended Larson for the remainder of the season. He was a free agent at that point after CGR had fired him, which allowed Hendrick Motorsports, the winningest organization in the history of the sport, to add Larson to its lineup for 2021.
Larson took the opportunity and dominated the series in a way not seen since Jeff Gordon’s glory days. Larson won a series-high 10 races, won the championship, and led 2,581 laps to break Gordon’s 1995 record for the most laps led in a single season.
The title-winning season also pushed Larson past the incumbent and then-defending champion Elliott on the series wins list.
Chase Elliott has had all of his Cup Series success at Hendrick Motorsports
Elliott has been with HMS since he debuted in the series for five races as a 19-year-old in 2015. It took midway through his third full-time season of 2018 to grab his first Cup Series win, but he racked up 11 victories from that point through his championship victory in November 2020 at Phoenix Raceway.
Elliott won only two races during Larson’s championship season the following year, but he captured five victories to Larson’s three in 2022 and participated in the Championship 4 while Larson finished seventh in the playoff standings.
The pair have also clashed at times on the track. While battling for the lead at Auto Club Speedway during the second race of the 2022 campaign, Larson claimed he did not see Elliott as the 2020 champ attempted to make an outside pass on the frontstretch.
Larson moved up late to block and put Elliott into the outside wall with 21 laps to go. Larson held on to win the race, while Elliott finished two laps down in 26th.
Drama between the two erupted again in August when they lined up on the front row for a restart with five laps to go at the Watkins Glen International road course in upstate New York. Larson drove deep into Turn 1 and pushed Elliott up out of the groove. Larson also won that race, and Elliott ended up fourth.
If not for those two incidents, Elliott might lead Larson on the wins leaderboard 20 to 17.
Regardless, these two are set up to compete at the highest level for a long time to come. Elliott signed a contract extension in February that will keep him in the No. 9 car through at least 2027. Larson signed his extension in September to remain in the No. 5 car through at least 2026.
Larson vs. Elliott could turn into the premier battle in the sport, especially as HMS engineers and team members learn more and more about what makes the Next Gen car work best.
Larson-Elliott could become the next Jeff Gordon-Jimmie Johnson rivalry at HMS
The potential teammate rivalry brings to mind the battles between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson a generation ago. They had a similar age gap (Gordon is four years older than Johnson), but Gordon had already reached the incredible heights of his Hall of Fame career before Johnson debuted.
Gordon already had his four championships and had won 58 races by the time Johnson came along as a full-time Cup Series driver in 2002. Johnson ultimately surpassed Gordon with seven titles but fell 10 wins shy of Gordon’s 93 career victories, although Johnson still has a chance to add to his 83 wins as a part-timer now with Petty GMS Racing.
It might be difficult for two drivers to accumulate those types of win totals since the Next Gen car requires single-sourced parts that are not manufactured by each team. But Larson and Elliott still have the talent and resources at HMS to become the headliners for much of the next decade in the sport.
Which driver finishes higher on the all-time wins list will be one of the fascinating career storylines to follow for two drivers who will likely one day be enshrined along with Gordon and Johnson in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.