Friday, May 25, 2012

Hendrick Motorsports on the rise

Jimmie Johnson gives his boss, Rick Hendrick, a ride around the track after
winning last week's All-Star race. Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Jimmie Johnson has made Hendrick Motorsports history several times. This past week was one of them - winning the Southern 500 for the third time in his career, winning the 200th  race for his boss and winning the All-Star race for the third time. Johnson also has the potential to win Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. He’s "swept" Charlotte race week once before, and he's able to do it again.

Last Thursday night, Johnson’s over-the-wall boys won the Pit Crew Challenge. It was a long- awaited victory for the 48 team as they redeemed themselves from an embarrassing loss last season. If you don’t remember, the 48 team faced off with the No. 11 FedEx team, and the 48 guys lost by seconds.

“I had nothing to do with that win,” Johnson said as he walked in to the media center after the challenge last Thursday night. He was there to support his guys as they faced the media. Johnson took a seat among the audience, or shall I say, he sat next to members of the media, joining them in their lighthearted jokes and laughter.

The boys took the stage and spoke about their careers. They are all lifelong athletes who wanted to continue to live competitive and athletic lives. Out of all the jobs the guys could pick from, pitting in the NASCAR series was an option, and they took it because this job allows them to stay competitive. However, this is not just a job for these guys; competing is simply their way of life. They’ve lived in sports since childhood - whether it was baseball, or football, they've always had someone, whether it be a coach or a crowd, watching over their shoulders. Life as a competitor is all they know.

What’s it like to pit for Johnson? TJ Ford, jack man, explained, "I've been on other teams where I've had zero relationships with drivers, or a partial relationship, or they might call you by your name if you see him. With this team, with Jimmie, we have a personal bond. He has a personal bond with everyone of us."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is also on a roll with a superb season. He’s third in the point standings, and last Saturday, he won his way into the Sprint All-Star Challenge, as opposed to getting in on the fan vote. Will he win again this weekend? Though the win gave him a chance to compete in the All-Star race, it didn’t break his losing streak in points-paying races. So can Little E win two weekends in a row? Don’t count it out. Crew chief Steve Letarte did tweet, “Zero damage on the all star car. We are gonna bring that one back for 600.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 JR Motorsports Foundation car.
Photo Credit: Genevieve 

Earnhardt’s pit crew finished third last Thursday. It would've been quite a night to see teammates face off in the final round, but the 88 crew fell just shy.

The 88 and 48 drivers are now leading in points at Hendrick, which leaves us to ask: when will the 5 and 24 teams catch up?

Kasey Kahne is starting his 300th Sprint Cup race this Sunday night. He’ll have a special decal to commemorate the milestone start. He’ll even pilot a new car that’s yet to be raced or tested. It would be classic if he were to win Sunday, which is possible. Charlotte is a fast track that suits Kahne's style, as demonstrated by his three wins and six top-5 finishes there. He stands a chance this weekend at the track his teammate Johnson once called, “his house.” Kahne won two poles this season, and his over-the-wall guys are sharp, regardless of where the team finished in the Pit Crew Challenge. Jack man Jeff Kerr won the the individual skill for jack man last Thursday.

Jeff Gordon is surviving a tough season with dignity. He finished 13th in the All-Star race with a car that had never been raced. Gordon has five wins and eight poles, as well as 16 top 5s and 20 top 10s at Charlotte. 

Momentum, energy and electricity surround the Hendrick teams nowadays. Will they hold on to it for the rest of the summer? Sure. Johnson and his team are focused, determined and know when it’s time to get into the zone. They are all able to block out all negative energy, which is why Johnson has won five straight championships. Is Johnson able to win a sixth? Sure. Can he even tie with legendary drivers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt? Sure. Will it happen soon, as in the next five years? Possibly, but let’s not look too far ahead. Let’s stay focused on this weekend.

Here is the starting lineup for Team Hendrick for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600:

Jimmie Johnson        3rd
Kasey Kahne           7th
Dale Earnhardt Jr.     12th
Jeff Gordon               23rd

Their boss, Rick Hendrick, hopes to have all four cars in the Chase this fall. Will this dynamic team of four deliver? It’s feasible.

Side note: Hendrick Motorsports will host their annual fan fest today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. You’ll have the chance to meet all four drivers. Here are the times (in Eastern Time):
  • Kenny Francis and the No. 5 team: 12 p.m. 
  •  Alan Gustafson and the No. 24 team: 12:30 p.m.
  • Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team: 1 p.m.
  • Steve Letarte, and the 88 team: 1:30 to 2 p.m.
  •  Jeff Gordon – 3:30 p.m.
  • Kasey Kahne – 4:30 p.m.
  • Jimmie Johnson 5:30 p.m.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. 6:30 p.m.
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Genevieve is a freelance writer with a day job in childcare. She resides near Charlotte, not far from all the race shops. When not writing, she's spending time with her niece, family, exercising and she enjoys the nightlife in the "Queen City." (aka Charlotte!)  






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