The Frontstretch: Is The Hendrick House In Order? by Thomas Bowles -- Monday March 5, 2012

Go to site navigation Go to article

Is The Hendrick House In Order?

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday March 5, 2012


While Denny Hamlin stood in Victory Lane, vanquishing the Jimmie Johnson desert demons from November 2010 his former championship rival stood quietly on pit road, accumulating them. Just a year and a half after earning Mr. Five-Time, in part because of some crafty fuel strategy at this very track the all-time Phoenix lap leader and the most accomplished within the Yankee-Hendrick dynasty was left with his own explaining to do.

Jimmie Johnson spent the first half of Sunday’s race wondering how his No. 48 car would lap the field. But once pit road problems hit, the rest of Phoenix’s 500 kilometers was spent pondering a special opportunity lost.

“I’m not really satisfied,” he quipped after the race, fidgeting around the same types of crew questions Hamlin had to deal with on that fateful day. “I really felt like we had a car to win the race with. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out.”

That’s putting it mildly, the best example of a Hendrick household appearing somewhat untidy two races in. After pacing the field for 55 laps, looking at times like the No. 48 car could enter its own time zone at will a fourth-place finish rang hollow for HMS’ top entry. Mere days after the type of cheating allegations that usually have the Lowe’s Chevrolet responding by whipping the field, crew chief Chad Knaus and company simply whipped themselves with a self-inflicted mistake – one that also gave their once-dangerous title contender Hamlin both closure and confidence.

Talk about turning the tables in a heartbeat.

“We had a little hiccup on pit road,” was Johnson’s politically correct version of events. “It kept us from really racing for the win. But we still fought back and got into it.”

Of course, left unsaid was the opinion of Johnson’s supporting cast, just like Hamlin had to keep his mouth shut mere moments after a call by head wrench Mike Ford cost them the race and, ultimately, the season title back in ‘10. This time around, in Johnson’s case it was loose right-rear lugnuts that left him mired in 24th halfway through the race, restarting in traffic on a Phoenix pavement where passing remains at a premium. For a moment, it looked like they might actually make it, working up to fifth before a final series of cautions put fuel front and center on everyone’s minds instead. But noticeable to the naked eye was an ugly final segment where Johnson also lacked the speed he showcased early on, especially beside another car (see: Brad Keselowski). It’s an ugly pattern, started last year where adjustments left them headed in the wrong direction late.

Yet J.J., whose 25-point appeal will be the chief subject of this week’s NASCAR Entertainment Tonight actually appears the best-positioned of the HMS foursome over the long-term. Consider Jeff Gordon, last year’s feel good winner was simply satisfied to bring the 2012 version of his Chevrolet home in one piece. The No. 24 was so loose at times, it looked like the veteran was dirt-tracking outside in the desert en route to eighth place.

“I was very happy with some of the calls that we made to get track position,” he said. “But there at the end, our car just wouldn’t take off. All in all, we were solid. We needed a solid day like this after last week.”

Solid but not spectacular, the difference a year makes which is notable considering the No. 24 stumbled during last year’s Chase. Yes, it’s ungodly early, and most would kill to snag a top-10 finish after an ugly Daytona DNF. But remember, Hendrick Motorsports and its behemoth $350 million value doesn’t deal in B+ finishes. They deal in title trophies, and coming off a Daytona where the team led just one lap – their worst total in 12 years – an impartial observer would expect a better bounceback effort considering Johnson’s dominance (no one has led more laps at Phoenix), Gordon’s 2011 victory here and newcomer Kasey Kahne’s triumph in the Fall.

Kasey Kahne’s fan support, particularly amongst his contingent of loyal female followers remains strong heading into 2012. But his performance hasn’t matched lofty expectations so far two races into his Hendrick Motorsports career.

It was Kahne’s day in particular that turned the most ugly, getting loose and smacking the wall on his own which cost him 30+ laps inside the garage. So far, he’s needed new sponsor Farmers Insurance: wreck in the Shootout, destruction in the 500 and carnage here while former No. 5 driver Mark Martin sits seventh in points. And then, there’s the matter of one Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the lone HMS driver inside the top 12 (fifth) but whose 14th-place finish came laced with expletives about the ugly handling of his National Guard Chevy. Indeed, after running 25th most of the day it took some timely fuel mileage follies and a few late-race adjustments to hide what was a horrible follow-up to last Sunday’s runner-up performance. Six times now, since that last win back in mid-2008 Earnhardt has run second; and six times now, he’s failed to earn so much as a top-5 finish the following week.

Surely, some of you are screaming bloody murder at merely the thought of claiming Hendrick’s set for a down year. Two races is a fairly small sample size; at the same time, it’s also shown us the offseason growth of several major rivals. Roush Fenway Racing won the pole, then the 500; they occupy three of the top-10 spots in points. Richard Childress Racing finished 5-6-7 in that race, then followed it up with Harvick coming within a whisker of victory Sunday. Joe Gibbs Racing also has its three-car fleet energized, solidly inside the top 10 and with Hamlin and, to a lesser extent Joey Logano and Kyle Busch exorcising the past.

“Hopefully,” said Hamlin after exiting this car. “It’s a sign of things to come.”

Meanwhile, for Hendrick this week, the only “sign of things to come” is a whole bunch of crafty arguments created for a rather public, season-opening flogging of a penalty. That’s not exactly the way you would expect an organization holding ten Sprint Cup titles to their name to start a season. And the fact they didn’t immediately punch back – the hallmark of their tenure in the Cup Series – was enough to make Vegas just a tad bit more important.

Connect with Tom!

Contact Tom Bowles

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Kevin in SoCal
03/05/2012 01:33 PM

Are we starting to beat on the “Hendrick is in trouble” drum already? How many years in a row is that now?

03/05/2012 03:33 PM

No worries. Mr Hendrick has the solutions in his back pocket.

03/05/2012 10:43 PM

All for show.

A mere slap on the wrist once again for the habitual cheater who, if on a lesser team, would be doing something else for a living.

Nascar is only doing this because of the ‘dega video which raised too many questions and eyebrows.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters

If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at