It has been a good NASCAR season for Hendrick Motorsports, with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. first and second in the Sprint Cup standings and a third – Jimmie Johnson – lurking in seventh. Kasey Kahne, who is 12thin the standings, might need a victory to get into the Chase, which is just three races away.
After Gordon’s victory Sunday at Michigan, team owner Rick Hendrick answered five questions about what has been working and what hasn’t for his outfit:
Q. To what do you attribute Jeff Gordon’s recent hot streak?
A. I think when you get a little momentum, I can’t really explain it. I’ve seen it with Jimmie, I’ve seen it with Dale, I’ve seen it with Jeff, he’s got that real stride and he’s excited to get to the track. He and (crew chief) Alan Gustafson have just gotten closer and closer.
Some of the new stuff that Alan brought a few weeks ago to Indy, Jeff has been running so well. We haven’t run that well as an organization. We haven’t finished that well at Watkins Glen (N.Y.). To go up there and sit on the pole, lead the race, again, it’s a combination of a lot of things. The engine guys are working really hard.
But I think the chemistry between Alan and Jeff, it’s almost like Alan anticipates what Jeff needs, the way he calls the race, the way they work together. I mean, they’re in the best stride they’ve had since they’ve been together. Just listening to them, Alan is so calm. He knows what Jeff wants. He knows what he likes in the car. No matter what the rest of the teams are doing, he’s making those adjustments that he knows will work for Jeff.
The chemistry is the best I’ve ever seen.
Q. What are you seeing from Gordon on the track?
A. I think experience is playing a big role. He has shown that he hasn’t lost anything. I think, if anything, you see so many of these guys that are really fast make mistakes. They get loose, get into the wall, speed, they’ll do things that cost them an opportunity to win a race. But when the chips are down and it’s time to get the flag, man, I put my money on him every time.
Q. Two of your teams – Gordon and Earnhardt – are running one-two in the standings and Johnson is seventh. Who would you like to see win?
A. Look, I don’t have any favorites. I would love to see Dale get his first championship. I would love to see Jimmie get number seven. I’d love to see Jeff get number five.
The thing I’m so proud of with the whole group, I feel we’ve run one-two-three in the points. Before the race I would get them together and say, ‘Listen, I want you to know what I’m going to do. I’m going to go to the loser first.’ I don’t want the guys that got beat to think I’m in Victory Lane celebrating.
I care about them all. We give them each the best equipment. There’s reasons I’d like each of them to win it. Let the best man that does the best job end up with the trophy.
Q. Johnson hasn’t had a top-10 since June. What do you think the problem has been with the No. 48 team since then?
A. Well, they have had a rough stretch. He had it last year, though. I think what they show is they can battle back, figure out a way not to lose with the shifter broken in the car, not to lose laps, then (crew chief Chad Knaus) focuses on trying to get him back on the lead lap, get him in position with tires at the end of the race to maybe even get a top-five.
I think that’s just calling a great race and Jimmie not giving up. Hopefully we have all the bad luck behind us now. They’ll be able to go to the next race feeling great.
But we got some good races for them coming up. If we got to have some things like that happen, I’d rather see them happen now than in the Chase.
Q. Have you been in touch with Tony Stewart?
A. I talked to (day-to-day manager) Eddie Jarvis. I didn’t talk to Tony. I’ve stayed in touch with them. I brought (interim driver Regan Smith) up to the race in Watkins Glen.
I think they’re making the best of the situation that they’re in. Tony’s got a lot of good folks around him. I’ve told him I’m there if they need me. But I haven’t talked to him.