Team Preview: Hendrick Motorsports
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on February 12, 2014 | 7:00 A.M. EST
Hendrick Motorsports scored nine Sprint Cup victories last season and had three drivers place in the top six in points. (Photo: Getty Images)
The odds are against it, but it could happen. With NASCAR’s new Chase format, four teams will race for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
What if all four teams came from Hendrick Motorsports?
“I’d be sitting on pit road ... drinking champagne,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said.
With a lineup that includes six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, there’s a good bet that at least one Hendrick car will reach the Homestead finale, maybe even two.
For those who wonder if the new format will impede Johnson’s race toward tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most series titles, Gordon says it won’t.
“They’re a team in their prime (and) doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon,’’ Gordon said. “All the potential is certainly there, but there are many competitors out there that would like to stop that from happening. I think they’ll get to seven. Will it happen this year, I don’t know.’’
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Drivers: Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet), Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet) and Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet)
Crew Chiefs: Chad Knaus (Johnson), Alan Gustafson (Gordon), Steve Letarte (Earnhardt) and Kenny Francis (Kahne)
21 - Record consecutive seasons Jeff Gordon has won at least one pole.
24 - Percent of Chase races Jimmie Johnson has won (24 wins in 100 races).
91.8 - Percent of laps Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran on the lead lap last season - most of any Hendrick driver.
677 - Laps led by Kasey Kahne last season - more than he led combined in the 2011 and ’12 seasons.
Crew chief Steve Letarte will leave Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team after this season and move to NBC’s broadcast booth, making this their final season together. Keith Rodden moved from his role as an engineer with Kasey Kahne’s team to be the crew chief for Jamie McMurray.
What They’re Saying
Johnson: “It’s hard to hide from now (talk of seven titles). I’ve found my desire to compete through other avenues and it wasn’t through chasing stats.
Gordon: ”I feel very confident that we’re going to have fast racecar. I feel confident that we’ve made improvements to our team to be even stronger this year than last year. I feel like for us, it’s about starting the first half of the season stronger than what we have the last couple of years.’’
Kahne: “The points, I’ve been a little inconsistent I would say over the years ... so, if anything (the new Chase format) helps me a little bit in having a better shot make the Chase and then maybe go for the points at the end.’’
Earnhardt: “I don’t feel 40. I don’t feel close to 40. It’s weird for me to say that and I think about it all the time that I’m going to be 40 years old (in October). I don’t feel burned out. I don’t feel worn out. I don’t feel like this is an old hat. I feel like I”m just as excited about Dayton as I’ve ever been.’’
Keys to Season
Perhaps a bigger question than if this is the year Johnson wins a record-tying seventh series title is how well Earnhardt and Letarte perform in their final season together. This happens as Earnhardt appears headed toward some of his best finishes in his career. Jeff Gordon has had slow starts each of the past two seasons and is looking not to have to rally to make the Chase again. Kasey Kahne showed speed last year but didn’t always have the finishes, so can he avoid the problems this year?
It’s hard to think Johnson won’t get a seventh title this year based on how he ran, especially in the Chase last year. If he doesn’t, it could be a teammate that keeps him from winning that title. Gordon has shown he can be strong in the Chase. He just needs a win early to know he’s going to be in the Chase instead of having to fight his way in at Richmond. Earnhardt could be primed for a big season based on how he ran last year - or a big letdown if his last year with Letarte starts to unravel. If Kahne can put everything together, he could be in the title hunt but has to show it all can come together.