Hendrick Motorsports is hopeful for 11th Cup title

Hendrick Motorsports has been owned by Rick Hendrick since 1984 and since then, the team has a total of 198 victories and 10 Championship Cups, with Jeff Gordon claiming four of those Cups and Jimmie Johnson with five consecutive titles. This season, HMS has three cars in the Chase and the energy among the drivers is high with optimism as they know that one of the three best drivers in the circuit will have a chance to score the team's 11th Cup title and for the sixth year in a row.

A chance to race for a Hendrick Motorsports team is a dream job. For those fortunate to drive for HMS, it's an opportunity of a lifetime and most drivers prefer to spend their careers at the shop located in Concord, N.C., approximately one mile from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jeff Gordon has been there for 18 years, Jimmie Johnson is in his 10th year and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been with HMS for three years and recently, he signed a five-year contract with the team.

On Saturday, Earnhardt Jr. finally made the Chase after a two-year absence. His last Chase run was in 2008 in the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, where he finished 12th in points that season.

Photo by Genevieve Cadorette At New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Earnhardt Jr. has had a good season, with far less struggles than in the last two years. He started 2011 winning two poles in one weekend, the first for the Bud Shootout, the second for the Daytona 500, and he consistently had solid finishes. At Martinsville, he had the chance to win, but Kevin Harvick’s car was faster and Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t able to pass him, so he had to settle for second place.

In Talladega, the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers started in the top four. Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were a near perfect drafting couple, keeping their cars up front. In the end, it was the 88 car that pushed the 48 to victory and Earnhardt Jr. finished in fourth after starting in fourth.

It wasn’t until the Richmond race in May that Earnhardt Jr. fell into a slump and struggled to recover.

In the Coca Cola 600, Earnhardt Jr. led the field to the white checkered flag but unfortunately, he ran out of fuel in the last turn and once again, Harvick was right behind him and passed him for the win. Earnhardt Jr. finished seventh that night. That was the end of the exciting finishes for Earnhardt Jr.

JR Nation has optimism for their driver, and their hopes are high and alive.

In Richmond last Saturday, Earnhardt Jr. started in 27th and in the 8th lap, he crashed head-on into Clint Bowyer, receiving damage to the front grill, hood and sides of the car. The 88 struggled throughout the race and in the end finished 16th, which was good enough to secure a spot in the Chase. Without any wins but three top fives and nine top 10s, Earnhardt Jr. starts the Chase as the 10th seed with 2000 points. A lot of work lies ahead for Earnhardt Jr. and his team.

Looking ahead, Earnhardt Jr.’s strongest tracks are Talladega, Martinsville and Kansas, where he finished fourth, second and second respectively in the spring races, as well as Charlotte, where he came oh-so-close to winning.

Jimmie Johnson usually has more wins than one coming into the Chase. This season for Johnson and the 48 team hasn’t been embarrassing, yet his lack of finishes hasn’t kept the 48 team out of the Chase.
Photo by Genevieve Cadorette at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Johnson has proven he’s not vanilla this season with a few disputes with Kurt Busch and the 22 team. Last Saturday, Johnson started in fourth place and led 38 laps and by lap 185, he spun out in Turn 2 after a little nudge from car 22. By lap 246, he and the 22 car made contact again: Johnson retaliated against Busch, spinning both cars out in the process. The 48 collided with the wall, causing enough damage to the rear of the racecar and for the car to be sent to the garage. He returned to the track 32 laps down and finished the race in 31st position. He had secured his spot in the Chase and with a season-to-date total of 11 top fives, and 17 top 10s and one win, he will have to start the Chase in Chicago as the sixth seed with 2003 points.

Johnson has proven he can improve his game during the Chase when he falls into "the zone," one like no other athlete can. His supporters are optimistic about a sixth Cup title this season and the 48 team is ready to show what they are made of. Successful tracks for Johnson are Talladega, Dover, Charlotte, Kansas, Phoenix, well, OK, almost all of them.

Photo by Genevieve Cadorette at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Jeff Gordon’s season has been the best amongst all four HMS drivers this year. He visited victory lane for  the 85th time in his career at Atlanta. He’s in a much better position to start the Chase than he was last year and all believe he is the one to watch out for. With one pole, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s and three wins, Gordon is seeded third and starts this season’s Chase with 2009 points. Is the four-time champion back and can he dethrone the driver he brought to HMS and win his fifth career title? 

With Alan Gustafson as his crew chief, some have said the relationship between the two may not be that of two buddies or best friends, yet, they work well together. Gordon has admitted to a reporter last May at the Coca Cola 600 interview session during his media availability that his favorite car was the one he raced in 1998 when he won 13 races. Gordon has yet to beat that score, but his career behind the wheel is far from over and retirement is not in his immediate plans.

Gordon finished third Saturday in Richmond, the only driver whose car was not damaged. He had potential to winning for the second time in a row, but was unable to hold off Harvick and Kyle Busch and he settled for third.

At 40 years old, Gordon has proven to still have the motivation and spirit of a championship driver. Gordon has found success at several of the upcoming Chase tracks, such as Loudon, Dover, Talladega, Phoenix, Kansas and Charlotte. There’s time for more wins on his way to a potential fifth title.

 Genevieve is a freelance writer, athlete and NASCAR Media Corp member living in the Charlotte, NC area. You can read her previous blogs on Skirts and Scuffs here and you can also read her personal blogs on Chapters of My Life. You can find Genevieve on Twitter at @C_Genevieve.
Hendrick Motorsports is hopeful for 11th Cup title Hendrick Motorsports is hopeful  for 11th Cup title Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 Rating: 5