Team Preview: Hendrick Motorsports

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Hendrick Motorsports ended the 2009 season on top of the NASCAR world, and with the offseason behind them, it doesn't appear that the four-car effort has missed a beat as it heads into 2010 and the opening weekend at Daytona.

For the biggest race of the season, this Sunday's Daytona 500, Hendrick Motorsports will have two of its drivers leading the field to the first green flag of 2010.

Mark Martin captured the pole for the race with a speed of 191.188 mph and will lead the Daytona 500 starting field to the green flag for the first time in 26 starts in "the Great American Race. He will be joined by teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the front row after Earnhardt Jr. qualified second last Saturday with a speed of 190.913 mph.

Martin is coming off his fifth second-place finish in the final NASCAR Cup standings and spent the offseason preparing to challenge for the championship again in 2010.

"I made sure over the offseason that training was a priority. From talking to Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and the guys at the shop, I know that they are more prepared and better at this point now than they were last year, too," Martin said. "We learned a lot last season that has us in a better place this year. Last year, we didn't know how our communication would be. The guys didn't know how I liked my cars set up. We know all of that stuff now. Instead of working on the little things, we can focus on the big picture. That makes a big difference."

After his pole qualifying effort, Martin was quick to credit his team.

"It is all about the team," Martin said. "That was not (an) accomplishment of mine, it is one of all of our guys on this team. To have Dale Jr. on the outside of the front row, locked in, just means that we are doing stuff right."

Earnhardt Jr., who struggled compared to his teammates last season, is encouraged by the qualifying effort but not ready to predict it means a better season for his team.

"We need a lot. This is nice, we just need to keep going; you know what I mean," he said after qualifying. "We just need to keep going. We did a lot to get this, but you can never have enough good things happen to you."

In order to have better things happen for him and his No. 88 team this season, Earnhardt Jr. knows that he'll have to cut down on mistakes and run more consistently throughout the races.

"I would really like to put together complete races where we're competitive throughout the event and we're able to get finishes that are good finishes, and those are top-fives and wins," said Earnhardt Jr. "Wins are what everybody's out there racing for, but if we could put together complete races without mistakes, without me making mistakes, without issues and problems arising, that's definitely going to signal some progress.

Earnhardt Jr. is working with crew chief Lance McGrew again for the 2010 season, and McGrew is ready to show what he and the team have accomplished in the offseason.

"Daytona is one race. Arguably it's our most important. It's our Super Bowl that kicks off our season. It's a great report card of what you have achieved during the offseason," McGrew said. "We have worked very hard on the team, the structure of the shop and building stronger, faster cars. We are trying to be as efficient as we possibly can and carry that to the track. The bottom line is that we have to run better. Through restructuring some people, leaning on some heavyweights that have been here forever and empowering some other people, we feel like we are stronger than we have ever been."

Earnhardt Jr. sees the team headed down the right path under McGrew's efforts.

"I feel like that we're definitely going in the correct direction which is good compared to the direction we were going last year," he said.

Hendrick's two other drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, were sixth and 11th fastest during qualifying, respectively, and look to come out strong in their Duel races. Gordon won his Duel race in 2009.

Johnson captured his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 2009 and is in a race with Gordon to see who can get a fifth title first.

"We've got all the things in place to be successful," Johnson said of his chances for a fifth championship. "I think this team is as strong as or stronger than it's ever been. I think everyone's hungry for another title. I know a lot of other teams are working hard and gearing up for the season but I think we have everything in place to make a run at it."

Johnson realizes his No. 48 team is a big part of his, and all of the Hendrick teams', success.

"Our people are a big, big part of it," he said. "Chassis and bodies are closer than they have ever been. I think that is a big part of it. I think those are a big, big part of it, Hendrick Motorsports is doing an amazing job there. Our engine shop...all of our departments are working really, really well together and are really focused. Everyone is doing a great job."

Gordon finished third in the points in 2009 and is excited to have another year in the Cup Series with crew chief Steve Letarte.

"I'm hoping that this year that we ramp up as the season goes on and we get better and we put ourselves in a position to win more races," Gordon said. "I certainly think we have that capability still in us. The fire's still there, the desire, the tools that we need, the resources, and the teamwork.

"I'm just really excited about some things (crew chief, Steve Letarte has) done with this team. We didn't have to do a lot, but I like the things that he's done, that he and I have been closely working on over the offseason."

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