They may be the Evil Empire, but you have to respect Hendrick Motorsports reaching 200 Cup series wins
It’s hard for most fans to be excited right now over Rick Hendrick’s 200th win in the Cup series. He is the New York Yankees of NASCAR, the Evil Empire. He hogs all the championships – either directly (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, etc.) or indirectly (Tony Stewart last year as an “affiliate” team).
He’s not a guy who the everyday NASCAR fan will tend to rally around. He is the guy they want their favorite driver to beat (unless you're a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, but you're rooting more for driver than team there).
But despite the lack of enthusiasm by some fans, all can agree on one thing – 200 wins is a hell of an accomplishment. Just like the impressive accomplishments of the Yankees, Rick Hendrick has learned how to translate his extreme wealth into extreme winning ways. And if you count the wins his “affiliated” teams have over the years, his total is far above 200.
Winning wasn’t his way in the beginning, as the team struggled out of the gate. But once the winning began, it kept coming. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have the lion’s share of his 200 wins, but many others have contributed.
One of that crew was Tim Richmond, a true talent who should have won a ton of races for Hendrick, but ended up succumbing to AIDS. Richmond could have been Jeff Gordon before Jeff Gordon – and it’s too bad we didn’t get to see that, as all the footage I’ve seen indicate he was a joy to watch race, especially his battles with Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Hendrick has seen tragedy along the way, losing his son and many team members in a plane crash. I’m sure he’d give all of his wins to have those people still alive.
He also narrowly avoided prison at one point along the way, getting house arrest before eventually pardoned for his financial misdeeds related to his car dealerships. This is perhaps the area where people will be most critical of him when his career comes to an end.
But despite all the other stuff, one thing is undeniable: Rick Hendrick wins. With his current stable of Johnson, Kahne, Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., you can bet that more wins will be coming soon at a steady clip for the foreseeable future.
Jimmie Johnson indicated after Saturday’s win that Hendrick was thrilled, but still in the winning mindset.
“(Rick Hendrick) was obviously really happy that we won the race. I thanked him for giving me a job and giving me a chance (laughs). I wouldn’t have won a bunch of these now if it wasn’t for his vision and Lowe’s coming on board to believe in me in the beginning. I wouldn’t be here today to contribute to these great wins. But in typical Rick Hendrick fashion he said, ‘We got 200, now let’s go get 250’, so we didn’t even savor it. He’s already put the pressure on us to go win 250 (laughs). But this is a huge moment for all of Hendrick Motorsports. There have been a lot of people over the years, a lot of years that led to these 200 wins. I thank them all. I respect them all. And I’m very proud of my race team today,” Johnson said.
While other teams step up and have good runs for a few weeks at a team, Hendrick remains the gold standard.
I’ve been waiting for another team to step up to their level for a while … but I’m still waiting.
I’ll probably be waiting for a while.
Kasey on the comeback
Remember when the season started with Kasey Kahne crashing every week and being on the verge of falling out of the top 35 points? Well, those days are long gone. Kasey is back up front where he has had the equipment to be all year, and is rising fast, already up to 16th in points.
Despite his stronger runs lately, Kahne still says the team has plenty of room for improvement.
“It was really good at times and not so good at times. We need to get our pit stops better. It’s definitely been a part of our struggles this year of getting further. We have been around the top-10, but we need better pit stops if we want to make it into that top-five more often. That’s a big thing then just working on the adjustments on the car, my feedback and trying to figure out how to make that better. There were times when we were really good and there were times when we just weren’t that good.”
On the flipside, his teammate Jeff Gordon is floundering this year, sitting in 24th in points with just one top 5 and two top 10 finishes in 2012. Goes to show you how quickly things can change in this sport.
A little bit ago, Kahne was no way going to make the Chase, now he can for sure if he keeps up his streak. Can Gordon make a similar turnaround? Possibly, but I wouldn’t bet on it. He’s dug himself a big hole with his extremely bad luck in 2012.
That Danica girl raced too
Darlington was definitely a wake-up call to the reality for Danica Patrick. She did OK in the Nationwide race, but terrible in the Cup race, which I fully expected.
She had a rose-colored view of the evening, trying to look at it positively.
"My goals were to run respectable, at times even passing and having decent speed and to finish. We did both of those things, so I think overall it was a really successful weekend at a track that could have been a disaster. This is a step in the right direction. I can finally thank Tony (Stewart) for putting this one of the schedule. Last night's race helped me for tonight. It was great running out there with those guys. I was just most disappointed that the two times I hit the fence and got the stripes on my car, Jeff Gordon was right behind me. I'm like 'Really, I look stupid now in front of Jeff Gordon'. But anyway, good night for the whole GoDaddy crew. Appreciate everyone's support.”
Sorry Danica, but if that’s your idea of respectable, I would suggest you look in a dictionary. Six laps down is nothing to be happy about.
My assessment of her so far this year: She’s a solid Nationwide driver, but a terrible Cup driver. It’s a big difference in talent between the series, and she has a ways to go before she can be truly competitive on the Cup level. In the junior series, though, don’t count her out. She could easily knock off some top 5 finishes and compete for a win under the right circumstances.
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