Hendrick Motorsports

by Jeffrey Price on January 31, 2008 @ 13:16:59 PDT

 


Owner - Rick Hendrick

Manufacturer - Chevrolet

Cars and Drivers

Hendrick Motorsports is the current gold standard among race teams in Sprint Cup racing. Hendrick has qualified more cars - six - in the past two Chases for the Cup than any other race team. Hendrick cars have led in points going into the past two Chases and won the last two Cup Championships. Additionally, Hendrick cars won a series high 18 races in 2007.

Hendrick Motorsports will garner a ton of attention in 2008 as fans look for the answers to three of this seasons most pressing questions: 1) Can Jimmie Johnson three-peat and win the first Sprint Cup? 2) Can anyone challenge Hendrick for supremacy, or will the team's dominance, spearheaded last year by Johnson and Jeff Gordon, continue? 3) Will joining a dominant team yield wins and a points championship for Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

No. 48 Lowe's

Nothing changes here, as two-time defending Cup champion Johnson returns along with crew chief Chad Knaus and sponsor Lowe's. Johnson cruised into the Chase in 2007 with six wins and a 13.0 average finish. Johnson turned it up in the Chase, posting four consecutive wins at one point and besting teammate Gordon by a Chase-record margin of 77 points. Johnson's 10 total wins was the most by a driver in one year since 1998, and his average finish of 5.0 in the Chase shattered the previous best of 8.7 posted by Joe Gibbs Racing driver Tony Stewart in 2005. Knaus, for his part, continues to gain mention as one of the craftiest, most talented crew chiefs in the business. In short, Johnson, with Knaus's help, turned in the most dominant season this decade in 2007, and he enters 2008 favored to three-peat.

No. 24 DuPont

In 2007, Gordon had his best season since 2001. He posted six wins, his highest season win total since 2001, and finished second in points, his best finish since winning his fourth Cup championship, also in 2001. However, 2007 had to be bittersweet for Gordon. He dominated pre-Chase and might have cruised to a points championship had it not been for the points adjustment initiated by the Chase. Instead, he watched teammate Johnson win a second consecutive points championship while Gordon posted the second best Chase performance, a 5.1 average finish, since its inception.

DuPont returns as sponsor in 2008, much to the delight of "Rainbow Warriors" everywhere. Steve Letarte returns as crew chief, as he and Gordon have developed a good relationship that has Gordon challenging for championships again after a couple of down years, including missing the Chase in 2005. All told, Gordon had a superb season in 2007, but it was ultimately eclipsed by what Johnson was able to do in the Chase. For Gordon, 2008 has all the makings of another great season. He figures to be Johnson's chief barrier to a third Cup championship as Gordon shoots a for a fifth championship of his own.

No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard

In 2008, the rich get richer, as Hendrick adds NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Jr., to its stable. Junior's driving talent and motivation have been openly questioned by some in the media, but Junior is arguably an elite driver. He has 17 career wins, tied for fifth most among fulltime drivers, and is one of four drivers to finish in the top five in points in three of the past five years. For Dale Jr., 2007 was a down year. Driving his last season for Dale Earnhardt Inc., Junior did not win any races and missed the Chase for the second time in three seasons, fueling the fire for critics. The 2008 season may be a make-or-break season for Junior with his new team. Some growing pains are to be expected, but they won't necessarily be accepted as excuses by fans and media looking for a story.

While Dale Jr. makes the major shift to a new team, his crew chief will be a familiar one. Tony Eury Jr., the man who has been Junior's crew chief for the majority of his career, returns to the top of Junior's pit box. Eury left Junior's No. 8 team early last year to begin working for Hendrick and to get up to speed on the new equipment Dale Jr. will be running in 2008. Eury's ability to learn about, manage and communicate change should be a factor in how well and how quickly Earnhardt adapts to his new surroundings.

The familiar No. 8 and Budweiser logo is replaced by the No. 88, Mountain Dew AMP and the National Guard on the side of Junior's car. New sponsors or not, Junior is a good bet to find victory lane again in 2008. He could be a dark horse for the Chase.

No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST

Casey Mears moves over from the No. 25 car (which became the No. 88 car) to take over for the departed Kyle Busch in the No. 5 car. Busch's crew chief, Alan Gustafson, stays aboard as Mears' new crew chief. Mears won his first career race last May at the prestigious Coca Cola 600, but he slid one spot in the points, to 15th, after finishing 14th in 2006. Despite his slip, Mears flashed signs of major improvement, more than doubling his top fives from two in 2006 to five in 2007. Additionally, Mears had 10 top 10s in 2007 versus eight in 2006. A spot in the Chase is a reasonable and attainable goal for the No. 5 in 2008.

Equipment and Resources

Hendrick Motorsports thrived in Car of Tomorrow (COT) races, winning five of the first six and nine of 16 overall. With the COT running in all 36 races this year, Hendrick figures to have a head start on the competition entering the new season.

Additionally, Hendrick boasts one of the best engine programs in the business as witnessed by zero DNFs on account of engine failure in 2007. While Johnson, Gordon and Mears should continue to benefit from what Hendrick's Web site calls "NASCAR's premier engine-building operation," it is Dale Jr. who may come to truly appreciate the Hendrick Engine Program. Junior had six engine DNFs in 2007; they were a huge factor in his disappointing season.

Despite the big move of Dale Jr. replacing Busch in 2008 and last year's addition of Mears, Hendrick has tremendous stability in its teams. This is due in large part to its cornerstones, Johnson and Gordon. The drivers, crew chiefs and sponsors for the No. 48 and No. 24 cars are signed to long-term deals. The success these two drivers have had under the Hendrick banner and their stated loyalties to team owner Rick Hendrick underscore this stability. Junior is signed through 2012, and Mears, through 2009.

Long-time Hendrick sponsor Kellogg's returns to the No. 5 car, joining another historical Hendrick partner, CARQUEST, as co-sponsor. Mountain Dew AMP and the National Guard come aboard as the major sponsors for the No. 88 car, representing the only major sponsor turnover for Hendrick in 2008. Overall, it is apparent that Hendrick is looking to replicate the success and stability of the No. 48 and No. 24 cars for the No. 5 and No. 88 cars.

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About Jeffrey Price

Price has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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