Team Preview: Hendrick Motorsports
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on February 9, 2016 | 9:30 A.M. EST
Hendrick’s iconic No. 24 entry will remain in competition as talented rookie Chase Elliott takes the wheel. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
Hendrick Motorsports has a new look for 2016 but is still considered one of the powerhouse teams in the sport.
For the first time in more than 20 years, Jeff Gordon will not be a member of the Hendrick stable. The future Hall of Famer stepped away from the sport at the end of last season to pursue a television career and it’s a void neither NASCAR nor Hendrick will be able to fill any time soon.
"There's simply no way to quantify Jeff's impact," Hendrick said. "He's one of the biggest sports stars of a generation, and his contributions to the success and growth of NASCAR are unsurpassed.
"There's been no better ambassador for stock car racing and no greater representation of what a champion should be. I will never be able to properly express the respect and admiration I have for Jeff and how meaningful our relationship is to me. I'm so grateful for everything he's done for our company and my family, and I look forward to many more years together as friends and business partners."
While Gordon won’t be the driver, Hendrick’s iconic No. 24 entry will remain in competition as talented rookie Chase Elliott takes the wheel. The former XFINITY Series champion embraces the opportunity and insists he’s not trying to replace Gordon but rather make his own way and career.
"I don't look at it as me trying to fill somebody's shoes," Elliott said. "I don't think you can replace Jeff Gordon in any way. The best thing I can do is go and try to be myself and do the best job I can behind the wheel.
"Jeff Gordon is Jeff Gordon, and I have all the respect in the world for him. I have to go and do my job."
Gordon’s departure thrusts Jimmie Johnson into the role as the longest-tenured driver in the Hendrick stable of Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne.
The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion won five times last year but was not able to make it to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a shot at title seven. He plans to make amends for that in 2016.
"Five wins are hard to ignore -- that’s a great year," he said. "The weirdness of being eliminated in that first bracket was tough for us and then the following race in Charlotte we had an oil pump failure that took us out, so we had some trouble late that we didn’t anticipate on having, but it was still a good year. Statistically, not our best year by any means; laps led was way down but we still found a way to get to Victory Lane. I think that made us proud as a team that yeah, we weren’t the dominant car but we’ll fight for it, and we found ways to get to Victory Lane.
"This team is capable of amazing things, without a doubt. What I’ve seen going on through the offseason, I feel that not only the No. 48 but all four cars at Hendrick Motorsports are going in the right direction and going to be championship contenders."
Earnhardt Jr. echoes his teammate’s sentiments about the coming year. He won three times last season with new crew chief Greg Ives calling the shots. He sees continued improvement for his team in 2016.
“We got a little better over the last five or six years,” Earnhardt said. “I’m just hoping we can continue that transition, continue that progress. We are not very far from being able to win the championship and continuing to challenge on into Homestead.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Hendrick organization will be right the ship of the No. 5 team and driver Kasey Kahne.
“I would say the last two years haven’t gone the way we wanted them to go,” Kahne said, “so we’re working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Kahne believes the new lower aerodynamic package in place for the new season will translate into better competition as well as stronger performance for his team.
“The things I look for the most this year is just having speed,” he said. “It’s all about being fast in practice, being fast in qualifying, being fast in the race and showing that speed every weekend. If we can do that, we’ll hit our goals, we’ll win races, we’ll be in the Chase, we’ll do the things that we want to do.”
Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage of the 58th Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 21, starting at 12 p.m. (ET) – with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.
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