Team Preview: Hendrick Motorsports

With back-to-back championships in his pocket and arguably the strongest stable on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, you would think Rick Hendrick would feel confortable about his chances in 2008.

"Our first concern for this year is to accelerate into 2008," said Hendrick, not allowing time to bask in the glory of Jimmie Johnson's two consecutive titles.

"Right now we're tied for dead last in the point standings as far as I'm concerned, so we need to come out and win races if we want to contend for another championship this season. What happened last year, happened last year and we all know that's not going to help us this year. While we had Jimmie and Jeff battling for the championship last year and were focused on that, a lot of the other teams were busy building their new cars for the 2008 season. It's going to be a lot of pressure, but we're going to work hard to stay on top of our game."

The already star-studded lineup of Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears gets an even stronger dose of celebrity when Earnhardt Jr. joins Hendrick in 2008.

After his messy divorce from DEI, Earnhardt Jr. now has the best chance in his career to show the world he can win races and championships on a consistent basis and NASCAR’s most popular driver isn’t going to let the opportunity pass.

"I think I have a good opportunity to succeed and win a lot of races,” said Junior, who will drive a No. 88 Chevy. “I believe, honestly and personally, that I will carry a championship on my mantle when I'm all said and done. ... I really do want it."

Earnhardt Jr. has already shown his commitment by showing up a week early in Daytona for Preseason Thunder testing, a gesture that impressed his teammates.

"For him to come down, show the team how committed he is to being up front, and how committed he is to winning races and championships, says a lot," Johnson said. "It says a lot to the team, his teammates, to the team members and I think to the racing public, that he's down here, ready to go and ready to get after it."

Gordon also likes what he sees in his new teammate - and the entire team.

"This organization has set standards that you just have to try and rise above and make improvements," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. "We have the ability to have at least as much success as we had last year, so I'm excited about everything heading into the new season. I don't think it's that much of a secret that Jimmie, Casey Mears and myself are very good friends off the track and I think that helps our line of communication. When you bring a guy like Dale Jr. into the mix, it adds a lot of pressure as well as expectations.

Earnhardt Jr. is chomping at the bit to get the next phase of his career started as he takes the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet.

"It's been overwhelming with everything that's happened for us to get to this point," said Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP/National Guard Chevrolet. "There really aren't enough hours in the day for me to really explain how much I've learned and seen the last few weeks. I'm so excited about this year that I'm nervous, which makes me feel like I did when I was a rookie coming into the sport."

"As far as going to Daytona for the test, I just wanted to watch and learn from my teammates because they obviously know what they're doing. I knew they'd appreciate me being there. I wanted to see what it was like at the track under the Hendrick Motorsports banner so it wouldn't be like the first time when we get back down there for the Daytona 500. I can't wait to get the season started because I've got a renewed sense of energy and excitement."

Mears, who scored his first career Cup win a year ago, may be under the radar of the star-studded team but feels he's in position for a successful 2008.

"I think my team is more prepared than ever," he said. "I'm going back to a program that really has built a lot of success and continuity. The communication is good between all the drivers here and that's even got a little bit stronger now that Dale Jr. has come on board with us. I'm excited and I think all of us at Hendrick Motorsports have a lot to look forward to this year."

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