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Q&A: Rick Hendrick, 11-time NASCAR Sprint Cup championship owner

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Chris Graythen - Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
Chad Knaus, left, has been the crew chief for six of the 11 Cup championships won by owner Rick Hendrick, right.

Jimmie Johnson’s 2013 Sprint Cup Series championship is the 11th for Hendrick Motorsports drivers and team owner Rick Hendrick.

Hendrick is the all-time leader in Cup series owners’ championships and remains the only owner to win titles with three drivers – Johnson (six), Jeff Gordon (four) and Terry Labonte.

Hendrick also won a NASCAR Nationwide Series driver’s championship in 2003 with Brian Vickers and has three championships in the Truck series with Jack Sprague.

Following Johnson’s ninth-place finish last Sunday, which clinched his sixth series title, Hendrick discussed how he ranks Johnson’s accomplishments, his organization’s consistent success and how Johnson is viewed by his peers.

Q: Where does this accomplishment rank? Is this just another championship?

A: We barely made it through the first year – had plans to close the shop. We got some help, and we went on. I’ve said this many times. When we go to New York, I thought you go to New York to watch Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt get a championship every year. Then we won one. Then we had three back-to-back. I thought it was going to be easy. Then it was a dry spell. Then Jimmie gets on a roll and does five in a row.

Every one of them is special. It makes you hungry to continue to try to win more. Credit to all the folks at the company that go to work every day, from the engine shop, the chassis shop. We’ve stayed together, stuck together. They got this championship mentality. I’m amazed, the level of competition today is so fierce. Any mistake or any problem, you get swept up in something, you don’t get a chance to celebrate like this. We kind of enjoy it while we can. Hopefully, we can come back and repeat.

Q: Your organization has produced 11 of the last 19 Sprint Cup Series champions. What is it about you or your organization that you’re able to do that for many of the people that come to work for you?

A: I think we just are very competitive. When we show up, we want to do the best we can. Everybody in every department, they push each other to go to the next level. I think after you win one, you want to win more. But there’s a real spirit of family, too, inside our company. Guys like Chad (Knaus, crew chief), you know, they share information and they work together and they elevate the whole company.

I go back to Harry Hyde – (we) built an unbelievable foundation. Then people that came along made it better. Randy Dorton, the engine shop. Jeff Andrews now. I think we want to go out and perform and do the best we can. If we don’t, we go to work and work harder. If we keep our organization tight, we’ll get beat now and then from the outside, but most companies get torn up from the inside. If we can eliminate that internally, we should be competitive every year.

Q: Does Jimmie get fired up or motivated from what others say about him, such as former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb claiming Johnson is not an athlete?

A: I don’t think Jimmie wants to try to prove it to anybody else, he just wants to prove it to himself. Again, I’ve never seen anyone that works any harder and is any more committed to his physical conditioning, from the way he eats at certain times of the year, when he gets into the Chase, the way he works out. It might rattle him a little bit, but you won’t ever see Jimmie come out and take a shot at anybody on Twitter or anything. Again, he lets his actions do the talking. I think that’s why so many people respect him. I think that’s why the garage respects him so much.

He doesn’t have to run over people. He doesn’t have to go out and brag about what he’s done. He just shows up, does his job. Sooner or later people have to say, ‘You’re the deal.’

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