Team Preview: Hendrick Motorsports
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on February 16, 2017 | 3:52 P.M. EST
Rick Hendrick’s team returns intact in 2017 looking for a second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, led by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (left) and seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson. (Photo: Getty Images)
Rick Hendrick’s team returns intact in 2017 looking for a second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Reigning series champ Jimmie Johnson leads the Hendrick stable into the new year, also marked by the full-time return of Dale Earnhardt Jr. along with last season’s Rookie of the Year Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne. The quartet has team owner Rick Hendrick more than optimistic about the chance for success in 2017.
"We’ve got such a strong team," said Hendrick, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last month. "Jimmie’s championship has energized the team and we’re going to be more than ready to go after it in 2017."
Johnson’s seventh title put him in the elite company of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the all-time series leaders. Johnson has won his titles under a variety of formats and championship changes, and will have another one thrown his way this year in a quest for title No. 8. With races being broken into stages, Johnson knows it'll be a challenge.
"Our team has always been very good at adapting and winning championships in the various formats. We take pride in that and look forward to the new challenge ahead," Johnson said. "For our sport to evolve and keep up with the times, we needed to put some serious thought into it and that's taken place. As the season gets started, we'll understand changes in the way teams approach each weekend."
Earnhardt is back after missing half of last season with a concussion. He’s been medically cleared and is ready to pick up where his career unexpectedly left off last year. Earnhardt tested at Phoenix Raceway a few weeks ago, which has helped fuel his optimism for the coming season.
"We work a lot in the off-season so the few days we do get off, we're very protective of them. You put the blinders on and try not to think about anything, under normal circumstances," he said. "But after being outside the car for so long, I didn’t feel that way at all. I feel like I’ve had my vacation, it was over a long time ago and I’m ready to go back to work."
Elliott’s stellar freshman campaign came up short of a first-ever Cup Series win but was, nevertheless, impressive. He finished 10th in the final standings and is more than ready to take on his sophomore season.
"We'll try to be contenders each week. That's our main goal," Elliott said. "Having a year together and going back for a second year with some consistency across the board is nothing but good."
Kahne has been under the microscope in recent years, winless since 2013. The No. 5 team did show life at the end of last season and Kahne believes that'll carry over into the new year, which he hopes gets off to a strong start.
"We stayed consistent all season," he said, "but were consistently in a better spot those final 12 (races). We're working hard, working for each other and hopefully, we start off strong and can carry it forward."
Hendrick Motorsports enters 2017 as one of the sport’s powerhouses and enthusiasm is high.
"This off-season has been unbelievable with the excitement of winning a championship because you don’t know you’re going to do it until the last race," Hendrick said. "And then, the Hall of Fame and having Dale come back ... so many things are happening ... new rules, a new race format. There's a lot going on."
Motor Racing Network will air a special edition "2017 Season Setup" preview show on Monday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. (ET). Daytona International Speedway will open for NASCAR teams on Friday with the season-opening Daytona 500 scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26. Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" will have live coverage of "The Great American Race" beginning at 1 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.
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