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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Johnson extension is bad news for competitors

Earlier this week, I wrote about how the other teams are going to have to step up next year and beyond if they want to end Hendrick Motorsports’ stranglehold on the title.

Their job didn’t get any easier with the announcement Friday that Johnson has signed on to stay at the #48 team through 2015. While nobody is surprised, this officially means the Hendrick team is holding on to all the key players it needs to maintain its dominance of the sport. A lifetime deal to keep crew chief Chad Knaus is in the works (Hendrick said it was too pricey to lock Johnson into a lifetime deal, so JJ’s obviously getting paid pretty well).

Looking at the Hendrick lineup that’s now solidify for several years, it’s pretty intimidating:
-- They have Jimmie Johnson. Enough said.
-- A rejuvenated Mark Martin is signed through 2011. He will continue to compete for titles, even at age 51 and 52.
-- Jeff Gordon will continue driving the #24 until about 2013, when he’ll likely retire after a 20-plus year career. He’s not as great as he once was, but will continue to win races and finish well in the points.
-- Then there’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s the weakest link on the team and has struggled lately, but won’t be going anywhere. He’ll stick around because he’s a cash cow and Rick Hendrick sees him like his own son. Despite his struggles, those who dislike him shouldn’t get used to him finishing 24th in points. It’s not likely to be a common occurrence.

Just like Gordon, who is co-owner of the #48 car, Johnson will be the rare driver who spends his entire Cup career in one car and with one sponsor. And he will continue to be good. After this four-year stretch of absolute success, you know Hendrick couldn’t wait to lock Johnson down for the long-term future.

Now that it’s done, the target is on his back. I hope, as a fan of NASCAR, that someone has good enough aim to hit that target and reach the level of the #48 team next year. If not, NASCAR might as well rename the championship trophy the Hendrick Trophy.

Kahne looking to move
Reports swirled Friday that Kasey Kahne may be looking to leave Richard Petty Motorsports after the 2010 season. This is something I and other media members suggested months ago, as it was painfully obvious. It doesn’t take a psychic to recognize this, as it’s just common sense that because the team is struggling, Kahne might want to go somewhere where he might have a chance to compete for a championship.

The bottom line: Unless RPM drastically steps up its game in 2010, it’s probably going to be the last season there for Kahne.


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