Andrews says no changes to Hendrick policy after spate of extra-curricular injuries
For the sixth time in the opening 11 weeks of the season, Hendrick Motorsports entered the racetrack without one of their full-time Cup drivers in the seat.
Alex Bowman, who fractured a vertebra while racing a sprint car at 34 Raceway in Burlington, Iowa this past Tuesday night, will be sidelined three to four weeks as he recovers, becoming the second HMS driver to miss time due to an extra-curricular injury this year.
“Whenever our drivers come forward with schedules for extracurricular racing or things they’re going to do like the Chili Bowl in the offseason, those schedules are reviewed,“ Jeff Andrews, President and General Manager of Hendrick Motorsports said. “And the message from Mr. (Rick) Hendrick is, ‘I don’t want to stop those things, but be careful.’ We’ll always keep Sunday at the top of the list.”
Bowman, who’d been enjoying one of the best starts to the season in his career with new crew chief Blake Harris, had amassed three top-five and six top-10 finishes before the injury. Josh Berry, who filled in for Chase Elliott in five races at Hendrick, will drive the No. 48 car in Bowman’s absence.
While Harris never wants to see his driver forced out of the seat, he’s confident in Berry’s skillset as a more than capable substitute.
“This company has a great history of success here in the No. 48 car alone,” Harris said. “Josh — we got him in the simulator Wednesday as soon as we knew something, I mean within two hours, I think, of him knowing he was able to hop in for us. Statistically, he’s probably the best guy here. He’s only had a handful of races, but I don’t know that he’s finished worse than second here.”
Berry, who will be making his eighth career Cup Series start and sixth this year, echoed Harris’ sentiments, and is much more confident stepping into this situation at a track he’s enjoyed success at (2022 Xfinity Series Dover winner) than when he stepped in last minute for Elliott at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
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“The reality of it is I feel a little bit more comfortable than where we were sitting in at Las Vegas, having a relationship with everyone at HMS and working through a handful of races with the No. 9. I’m ready to go,” Berry said. “We’re going to stay in the present; race these two races this weekend and see how it goes.”
Elliott knows exactly what his teammate Bowman is going through, having lived a similar situation only a matter of weeks ago.
“I know he’s bummed. But I think it could have been a lot worse, right,” he said. “For me, number one, I’m thankful he’s in a position where he’s going to be able to get back to the team and be able to contribute 100 percent as he was before. So to me, his health is really first and foremost. I know he’s bummed and he’s probably not feeling good, but I’m looking forward to having him back.”
Despite the quantity of incidents affecting the same organization, Elliott still chalks it up to unfortunate timing more than anything else.
“I mean, look, I get it — it’s a bad look. I totally understand that,” Elliott admitted. “But also, I understand that there is a timing piece of that and it’s just really poor timing. I think if one happened this year and the other happened next year, would we be having the same conversation? Probably not… I think them being back-to-back makes it look a little worse than the reality.”
“We look at Chase and Alex’s situation as two different situations,” added Andrews, who doesn’t anticipate any changes to the organizations policies as it pertains to off-track activities. “This is the first extracurricular racing accident that we’ve had that’s taken one of our drivers out here for three weeks.
“We may take a look at this if it happens again. We’ll have to,” he continued. “From our perspective, we have to evaluate and understand what is the right balance. We certainly don’t want to tell them ‘no’ to something that might help them here on Sunday. But we want them in good race cars, safe cars.”