The Frontstretch: Taking One For The Team: Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin Getting Gordon and Johnson's Leftovers? by Vito Pugliese -- Wednesday April 8, 2009

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Taking One For The Team: Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin Getting Gordon and Johnson's Leftovers?

The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Wednesday April 8, 2009


With the Sprint Cup Series off this week, you might expect some of the senior writers of this staff or other publications would be absent as well. But that is not the case with me. Although I was sidetracked by a brief hiatus, the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

I’m back…

Having said that, somebody else whose name is also synonymous with NASCAR has returned as well – Jeff Gordon. After 17 starts at the 1.5-mile D-shaped tri-oval, Gordon won for the first time at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday, snapping a drought of 47 races since his last win at Lowe’s back in October, 2007. It was a welcome relief for both driver and crew chief Steve Letarte, who — after being credited with Gordon’s six wins and incredible 30 top 10s that year — was suddenly made out to be a pariah by the end of 2008. In just a 12-month span, Letarte became a source of anger, not elation, for many who pointed the finger at Gordon’s slump straight through to the guy on top of the war wagon.

How could Gordon be going winless, after all, while Jimmie Johnson has been running wild for three seasons, scoring a third consecutive title that included five wins in the final 12 races of 2008? I know the Chase makes it a competition between teammates; but aren’t these cars prepared in the same shop? Was there really that much of a difference between the two?

It’s a simple fact that got me to thinking this week. In this day and age of NASCAR, does it really make sense to knowingly equip one team with better parts than the other?

If there ever was an organization that could bring these thoughts to light, it would be Hendrick Motorsports. Truth be told, Hendrick was never a perennial championship contender until Jeff Gordon came along and scored his first title in 1995. Before the arrival of Gordon and crew chief Ray Evernham, HMS was a top-tier team, to be sure, but never one that resembled the current juggernaut with benchmarks that all other organizations have come to measure themselves by. Sure, there were wins: Tim Richmond’s seven in 1986, Geoff Bodine and Darrell Waltrip’s Daytona 500 triumphs in 1986 and 1989, and Ricky Rudd’s runner-up finish to 1991 Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – albeit nearly 200 points in arrears. During this time, Hendrick was typically a two or three car organization, but all his teams seemed to be about on equal – if mediocre – footing.

They were good, but not great.

About the time that Jeff Gordon started winning races and championships, though, a funny thing happened. The car that at one time was the standard bearer of the Hendrick camp, the No. 25 car, suddenly became erratic, if not manic in its performance. It would be either blindingly fast but blow up, simply loaf around the back of the field, or — worst of all — become a combination of both. It wasn’t long until others began to notice that no matter who was at the controls of the third car at Hendrick Motorsports, he seemed to be on a different agenda than his teammates driving the No. 24 or the No. 5. It got to the point where the team was suddenly saddled with the most unfortunate of tags in a multi-car organization:

The R & D car.

While Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team have become the face of Cup juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports, there are multiple teams under the same HMS umbrella that perpetually seem unable to challenge for the Cup title.

Say what you will, but the performance of the No. 25 (now the No. 88 driven by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. since 2008) has never quite matched that of its stablemates. There may have been a race or two it won in the past decade; but those were far and few between compared to what the other cars were accomplishing. That could be the result of a disparity in driving talent; the ride has been filled by a revolving door of drivers once Ken Schrader left in 1996. But even during the worst of times, there appears to be a clear difference in equipment supplied by an organization that became a dynasty with Gordon by the time he won his fourth title in 2001. And when Jimmie Johnson joined the team the following year — driving the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy — the chasm between teams grew even wider, with the No. 5 car soon joining the No. 25 as the two cars on the outside looking in.

While HMS struggles to make all four cars competitive, its main rival has proven parity is far from impossible. Roush Racing put all of their teams in the Chase in 2005, comprising half of the ten-car championship field. In comparison, Hendrick managed just one that year – the No. 48 team of Jimmie Johnson — while Gordon joined Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch in finishing well outside the top 10. In 2007, the gap at HMS widened considerably, with Johnson and Gordon winning a combined 16 races while teammates Busch and Casey Mears combined to win two — one of which was based on a fuel mileage gamble. And while Mears may struggle to live up to the status of that last name, Vickers has performed admirably with his start-up Red Bull outfit, while Busch has more than proved his abilities in Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas.

The main ingredient here seems to be machines, not the men.

Let’s fast forward to the present day lineup at Hendrick Motorsports. In one shop are the designated hitters of the team: The No. 24 and No. 48. The No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet was the face of NASCAR for most of the mid-to-late 1990s, and although “The Drive For Five” championship mantra wore itself out about halfway through 2001, Gordon’s 82 wins place him within just two more of tying Bobby Allison for third place all-time. And — if he stays healthy and active the next few years — Gordon will pull within striking distance of David Pearson’s second place tally of 105 wins, a feat believed nearly impossible as recently as 15 years ago. Meanwhile, the No. 48 car of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have conspired to win the last three championships and 41 wins to date, putting them on pace to not just challenge Gordon’s records, but surpass them.

All that success from HMS — and that’s just in one building.

In the other shop, you have Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. One driver should have won four championships and a Daytona 500 throughout a two-decade long career, while another is constantly reminded that he has not won seven championships — making his Daytona 500 win seem as if it was from another era to hear some describe it. No question about it, both of these drivers proved they were weekly contenders long before making their way over to HMS.

But the talent hasn’t translated on the race track, as the performance of both of their cars has not matched that of their teammates in 2009. Both were fast at Daytona this year, with Martin sitting on the front row and Earnhardt, Jr. having a contending car before he completely lost his mind and became a rookie in just a couple of short hours. By the finish, each driver was well outside the top 10, an ominous sign for what’s been a difficult beginning to both their seasons.

Of course, both the No. 5 and No. 88 machines have suffered their share of mechanical troubles as well. Martin was the victim of a pair of Hendrick hand grenades on consecutive weekends at California and Las Vegas, while Dale Jr. suffered an engine failure moments after Martin at Fontana — his troubles preceded by a transmission problem in practice. In contrast, Johnson dominated early in that California race, leading 74 of 200 laps, while Gordon in second stalked eventual race winner Matt Kenseth for the victory.

One week later, the gap in performance showed its ugly face once again. Johnson again dominated the first two-thirds of the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas before spinning himself silly, while Gordon led for 17 laps to come home sixth. And the difference in performance has continued to widen even when all four cars are running well. A broken shifter slowed Dale, Jr. to an eighth place run at Martinsville — the same race where Johnson won and Gordon came home fourth. Martin has won a pair of poles at Atlanta and Bristol, but has yet to come home with a top 5 finish this season in either — tracks where Johnson and Gordon routinely outperformed him once again. On his best days, Martin is consistently a sixth or seventh place car. Junior has been consistently a couple of spots behind, but pretty much in the same boat.

A boat that is simply not as fast as the ones built in the other building.

Does this mean that the No. 88 or the No. 5 is a test mule for the Nos. 24 and 48? After all, it’s the 24 and 48 that are consistently up front leading races, and as of last weekend battling each other for wins. The No. 5 and No. 88 teams have three blown engines, broken transmissions and shifters, and a wrecked race car between them — not to mention the stigma of nearly being on the bubble for making races just a few short weeks ago. That is a far cry from headline-making Victory Lane celebrations with the cute Sprint girls, with someone handing you a pair of six-shooters to fire off into the air. At this point, would you want to arm Dale Jr. following another lackluster run? Or worse yet, Mark Martin after another engine failure? While Johnson and Gordon seem not to even know what bad luck is, the other two men have enough of it to already fill a season — and it’s only April.

While I think it is a stretch to say half of the organization is guinea pigs for Team Unibrow (yes, I know they aren’t technically unibrows – but they are prominent – mine are too), the numbers tell the tale. No question about it, there is a noted difference in performance between the teams of Johnson and Gordon compared to Martin and Earnhardt, Jr. You could say that it’s because Martin is with a new team, or that the cantankerous cousins can’t control themselves — but I think there’s more than that going on in this case. At the risk of sounding like a Martin Myopian or an Earnhardt Apologist, I believe there’s something different at play, secret secrets made that only seem to improve just two of the four cars on the team. For while Jeff Gordon had a subpar 2007 that he has since chalked up to a bad back and lack of physical and mental preparation, he is clearly up to speed this year. But when will the other half of HMS start to resemble that of the two Sprint Cup Series point leaders?

Probably not until whatever is in their building makes it over to the other.

Contact Vito Pugliese

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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04/08/2009 02:24 AM

Every excuse you guys can come up with, huh? So was Gordon the guy getting lesser equipment when Jr. was the leading HMS car last season for so long? Oh, and Martin has consistently been running in the Top 10 every race although his engine problems haven’t given him the results. I would call that pretty darn good performance, especially for someone that hasn’t run fulltime in a few years and is with a new team. Gee, that just leaves the #88. But it must be that he is getting the crap equipment, right? Yeah, sure.

04/08/2009 03:45 AM

Maybe Earnhardt’s crew is getting the leftover driver.

04/08/2009 06:14 AM

Very well put Vito . This isn’t news to anyone that followed NASCAR carefully over the years . From the mid 90s the 24 always got the best of everything . When Johnson was hired , Lowes demanded that the 48 car qualify for every race , and that meant that the Johnson car would need to have the same performance as the 24 . And as we all saw , with the same equipment , Johnson was fast right out of the box . In fact over the years Johnson has embarrassed Gordon in results . Maybe it was far more car than it was Gordon .

04/08/2009 06:49 AM

Or maybe Johnson’s a hell of a driver too.

04/08/2009 07:12 AM

My God! The excuses that the “Jr.” apologists make.

I guess getting that left over equipment is the cause of the complete lack of focus on the part of the Nr. 88 driver and the cause of his lack of driving skills!

I said last year that when Jr. didn’t perform, the excuse would be “He isn’t getting the best equipment.”. Looks like I was right.

04/08/2009 07:16 AM

And……. According to Jr. nation. Wouldn’t the worst HMS equipment be better than the best DEI equipment?

“I could win reqularly if I was in better equipment”, said Jr.

Bill B
04/08/2009 07:51 AM

It would have been much harder to write this story last week wouldn’t it? Up until then the story would have had to be how only the 48 was getting good equipment. I guess the 24 team figured it out and started taking parts from the shelves with the “48 Team” designation. Why would an owner give questionable parts to any of their teams? What would be the incentive… to piss off two sponsors? Sorry but this perceived inequity is an excuse for under performance, lack of team unity or maybe just bad luck. Now, with that said, come Chase time if two teams make it and two teams don’t a little more resources from the organization may be given to those cars for obvious reasons. Additionally, late in the Chase if only one car still has a reasonable shot at the championship then that team may get a little extra attention, but that’s just common sense.

04/08/2009 07:57 AM

I am not one of the Jr. nation but I do feel the the other 2 cars (88-5) are not and have never been up to 24 and 48 levels. Could the 88 & 5 have been driven smarter? Yes, could they have won regularly? Not in my opinion. 48 & 24 ALWAYS get better stuff!

Rob S
04/08/2009 08:40 AM

Mark Martin was a great driver ,but is past his prime and Junior was never a great driver and NEVER will be.He was hired to sell merchandise and Rick always liked him.Why can’t people accept the truth?

04/08/2009 10:28 AM

I’m not sure what is going on. I do think the cars in the same garage share information. Maybe that information should be shared will all the teams. I think Chad should be giving Crew Chief classes!!! Or maybe Jr and Mark should try not to be so “nice” on the track and drive like Kyle know..sort of like a monkey with his head on fire. LOL!!!

04/08/2009 10:37 AM

OK,How are all of you that don’t like JR going to explain the Kyle
Bush case??? I believe he was in the wrong building when he drove for Hendrick also. Look at what he has done since leaving. The hand writing is on the wall folks, there is a difference between the two buildings, even if you don’t like Mark Martin or Jr!!!

Casey B
04/08/2009 10:51 AM

That makes alot of sense for Rick to pay millions for a driver like Jr. and then put him in sub par equipment. Hey I got it, maybe he has a grudge against Jr. and brought him to his team to give him poor equipment to ensure he never succeeds in Cup, thats got to be it! And dont get me wrong Mark Martin is a proven great driver but maybe there is something behind the notion that he has been racing how many years without a championship?

04/08/2009 10:54 AM

Bill, what the #24 got was a new crew of engineers who figured out a completely new complex and complicated setup over the off season.

Vito, you’ve been wandering through my mind. You are not alone in your thinking. That doesn’t include the new cars that have been built for the #24 and #48 cars.

Carl D.
04/08/2009 10:56 AM

I think equipment explains part of it, but the fact of the matter is that there is only one Chad Knaus. He’s the thoroughbred, while Johnson is just the jockey. Until Hendrick reassigns Knaus to one of the lesser teams, the 48 will be the car to beat every race.

As for Gordon, well, he’s not just a driver, he’s a co-owner. Come hell or high water, Gordon will get the best equipment and his crew chief will have preferred access to whatever makes the 48 team so good.

The 88 and the 5 cars are second tier cars in the HMS organization and they will be as long as the status quo exists with Knaus & Johnson, and with Hendrick & Gordon.

Casey B
04/08/2009 10:58 AM

And the first step to improving your car during a race is to find your pit stall, which for some reason Jr. has a hard time doing, but thats got to be poor equipment to, does he not have the gps that the 24 and 48 have?

Bill B
04/08/2009 10:59 AM

So are you insinuating that if the 5 and 88 asked for a new engineer that they would (or were) denied?

If I recall Kyle did win a decent amount of races in the 5 didn’t he? You can’t prove whether he’s won more with Gibbs because he’s matured and gotten experience, or has better communication with the crew chief, or has better equipment than he was getting at HMS.

Bill B
04/08/2009 11:01 AM

Oops that second point should have been directed at Marilyn. Sorry Ginger.

Say hi to Mary-Ann and Gilligan for me LOL.

04/08/2009 11:10 AM

Back in the early 90’s I was at Charlotte for the fall race. Decided to go over to the Hendrick shop to look around. At the time, it’s three teams were in three buildings.

The #24 shop looked like it had been painted the day before. Every person in the shop was in crisp uniforms. There were at least a dozen completed cars lined up with about 40 or so assembled motors waiting installation. In the adjoining gift shop was any memorabilia you can imagine for the DuPont Team. The place was buzzing with employees…too many to count.

Down the hill a bit was the #25 Budweiser shop. It looked as if it had been painted 2 or 3 years ago. There were 6 or 7 cars assembled and perhaps 15 or so motors on stands. Fewer than half the number of employees that were observed in the #24 shop and of those, maybe half were in some kind of uniform.

Further down the hill and around back was the #5 shop. This was only a year or so after Terry won the championship. The shop had NEVER been painted, There were four assembled cars and maybe 10 motors awaiting installation. I counted four guys working…all in jeans and t-shirts. Not a uniform to be seen among them.

There was no question at THAT time where the dollars were being allocated and where they weren’t!

Casey B
04/08/2009 11:18 AM

Well since we are still in the early 90’s that seems like a good point Luke, or maybe Hendrick had the business sense to put most of his money behind a new and upcoming driver whom he thought could be the face of his organization and win championships. Seems to me like that worked out pretty well, I heard they haven’t painted the 88 and 5 shop since 1995, and just to think what a new coat of paint to that building could do for those race teams, oh the possibilities.

Bill B
04/08/2009 12:23 PM

You know, in thinking about this some more, there may be another factor involved, the amount of sponsorship dollars each sponsor ponies up. For instance looking at how the 18 ran prior to Kyles arrival. I have read (totally unsubstantiated) that Interstate Batteries was on the low end of the amount of sponsorship dollars relative to other sponsors. When Kyle came in so did M&M’s and Interstate became a partial sponsor for certain races. So was the sudden increase in results that the 18 team experienced totally due to Kyle coming in or did the additional dollars that Mars pumped into the operation also a factor. All I am pointing out is that there are a lot of factors that could determine stuff like painted garages. I’m not saying this happened but suppose Dupont said we want to pay for a state of the art facility for our driver to give them every opportunity to succeed. You couldn’t expect the owner to turn down an offer and you also couldn’t expect the sponsor to pay for a facility to house all three/four teams.

04/08/2009 12:36 PM

And Ginger. You know this, How?

Are you privvy to the internal personnel workings at HMS?

BTW, Kyle Busch did win 4 races in the 5 Car and none of them were feul mileage wins. and if I recall correctly, Terry LaBonte did win a Championship driving the 5 car.

04/08/2009 01:19 PM

If you look back at when Terry LaBonte won his Championship with HMS Rick didn’t look to happy about it cause Terry beat his Golden Boy! I’ve said this before, why don’t they make the 24 a teamate with one of the other cars and the 48 the other?

04/08/2009 01:22 PM

I thought the question of the 25 car was answered several years back (if you tend to believe it). Hendrick himself was quoted as to why that Bud car could do no right, he said something to the effect of “we threw everything at that car to make it win. And it was never under-funded”. I seriously doubt an owner would use one of his cars as an R&D car. The 24 and 48 car getting “better” parts is ludicrous and laughable. Step out of your grassy knoll…it’ll clear up the clouding of your eyes and the plugging your ears. Ridiculous!

It is what it is!
Luck, circumstance, timing, competition, funding, penalties. Take your pick.

Why hasn’t Mark Martin ever won a championship?

Why hadn’t Junior Johnson ever won a championship?

Nice try Veet. It gets us all talking anyway.

04/08/2009 01:28 PM

I know! Even if Jimmie and Jeff have worked their butts off with their teams the past few years, they should give every single team member to that #88 team. Steve and Jeff have said they worked their butts off after Homestead to figure out how to help their team. They chose to restructure some things. When The #88 driver is asked about making some changes that could improve his team he says that he would rather race with his cousin and have fun out there. Missing pit boxes and hitting the wall isn’t his fault either y’know. I see there is still no explanation for the #24 team’s struggles last season in comparison to Jr.‘s being second in the standings the majority of the pre-Chase season. Funny thing too, when all that was going on last season I sure don’t remember many Gordon fans or media claiming that he was getting the crap equipment.

Mark Martin has performed very well for a guy adjusting to a new team and new crew chief and returning to fulltime. I expect him to only get better.

As for Kyle’s win totals, it’s no secret that he is very aggressive and loves a loose race car. The COT plays right into his hands. He can scrap the wall a few times and keep on trucking where in the old car he was on the wrecker. Look how many times he got the wall at Darlington last season and still won. He even won the very first COT race.

smoking joe
04/08/2009 01:29 PM

maybe Jr. could borrow some of the left over paint from the 24 or 48 cars and paint his pit sign so he can find it

04/08/2009 01:30 PM

This info was in an article by Marty Smith about 3 or 4 weeks ago. I didn’t save it as I’m not a Gordon fan and saw no reason to save it.

I do have friend who works at HMS but we’ve never discussed this particular info. Satisfied?

I didn’t say anything about KyB, his wins and/or Terry. OK?

04/08/2009 01:39 PM

Bill, I don’t think Jr would ever ask Rick for a new engineer or anything else. He is very shy and understated.
I do remember hearing Vickers talking about being denied things he asked for while JJ and JG asked for and received the things they asked for. I, of course, have no idea if this is true, strictly hearsay.

I’m sure Mary Ann and Gilligan would say Hi back to you if I knew where to find them. LOL

04/08/2009 01:41 PM

The “DRIVE FOR FIVE” wore out half way thru 2001? WTF? Gordon didn’t even clinch his 4th title until the fall of 2001! If Jr. doesn’t win a race this year, that would mean in two years at Hendrick, he would have won 1 race on fuel milage. THE SAME AS CASEY MEARS! Who do you think Rick Hendrick should put in the 88 in 2010?

04/08/2009 01:54 PM

With JR. unable to find his pit stall, or stopping outside his pit box, WTF? Thought NASCAR drug tested the drivers this year.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
04/08/2009 02:01 PM

Sorry. 2002. It wore itself out halfway through 2002. Because he won his fourth in 2001.

I knew that. I know that.

04/08/2009 02:05 PM

Please explain Tony Stewart He’s geting motors and chassis from HMS Also gets set-ups and all info that HMS drivers get He’s a top 5 car and newman and JR are not Please explain you nuts!

Bill B
04/08/2009 02:11 PM

Brian Vickers and Dale Jr are apples and oranges, although your point is well taken and may be right on with respect to Vickers. But come on, Jr is both a cash cow to the organization and the most visible driver in Sprint Cup plus Hendrick likes him. I seriously doubt that the 88 team is missing anything and if Jr is too shy to ask then Eury Jr darn well should/could. BTW, from what I’ve read, Gordon didn’t ask for a new engineer Letarte did.

04/08/2009 02:12 PM

For all those that think Mark Martin is past his prime…
Take away two bad finishes (one for a blown motor, and another for a transmission that slipped out of gear and lead to the motor failing), Martin is having a great year behind the wheel.

I don’t buy into the idea that Rick Hendrick would spend the time, effort, and money into bringing the 88 and 5 teams together in this era just to let them run mid-pack.
His business model involves selling motors and racecars to other teams and failed performances at any of his teams inhibits that model.
Furthermore, the Roush team of cars stands poised ready to take over whenever the 24 or 48 falter (which will happen, sooner or later). Hendrick wants 4 teams to contend for the Cup title; he’ll have it, by hook or by crook.

MI Mike
04/08/2009 02:41 PM

Poor Jr. once he finds his pit stall maybe they will give him some scraps form the 24
Or maybe he can go back to DEI and get back in his #8 that was a real winner wasnt it?
Maybe he can jump into the #48….oh no lets not do that because if he continues to loose what will his next excuse be?
Oh yeah the pit stall wasnt well marked.
I might ask why is Jr. the only driver to have all these problems…oh yes that would be Tony Eury Jr.

Kevin in SoCal
04/08/2009 04:08 PM

usetawuz said: BTW, Kyle Busch did win 4 races in the 5 Car and none of them were fuel mileage wins. and if I recall correctly,”

Guess again. 2006 New Hampshire race. Look it up. Kyle Busch gets his third career cup win by staying out and stretching his fuel as the race goes an extra 8 laps.

04/08/2009 04:56 PM

Kyle did ok at Hendrick, but better at Gibbs, perhaps because he joined two bad-asses who had similar attitudes to him. Jeff and Jimmie are a bit more sponsor-friendly, and Kyle’s aggression likely did not fit in. This is similar to Beriun Vickiz, too. Sometimes a change in scenery and some new responsibilities can work wonders. Maybe nobody listened to Kyle at HMS…who knows?

Jeff Gordon sucked last year for one reason…Jeff Gordon. He didn’t gripe last year but he had (i) no sleep, (ii) a couple of horrible early-season accidents, (iii) no sleep, (iv) zero fitness and (v) a bad back. So, he could qualify well, and run well at the beginning, but he would fade at the end. Simple fitness. He also threw everything that he had into his racing in 2007, but still got beaten. This was after a crappy 2005 and a quasi-crappy 2006. Plus, in 2007, half of those six races were gimmes. They were not dominant performances, etc etc. This year is very different. JG is a kickass driver. JJ is a quiet bad-ass. Nobody thinks he can drive because he doesn’t tell everybody how good he is, and doesn’t storm out when he loses. I dunno what the deal is with Mark Martin. I think he’s enjoying himself. Likely doesn’t care if he wins or not. And Dale Jr…is sending a clear message that it is not his team that is the problem. Dude wants out, and is not sure how to handle it.

However, let’s talk more about the resource-sharing. If there are pieces of the pie to go around, let them be earned.

04/08/2009 05:48 PM

_MI Mike said: Poor Jr. once he finds his pit stall maybe they will give him some scraps form the 24
I might ask why is Jr. the only driver to have all these problems…oh yes that would be Tony Eury Jr.

You hit it! Jr has to be driven and Tony Jr. can’t find the whip. Put Tony sr. back on that box and Dale will start to win in three races.

04/08/2009 10:51 PM

What a stupid article.
Nuff said about Jr. Let Jr. be Jr. I’m sure he doesn’t really care what you think.

04/08/2009 10:57 PM

R&D shop? I thought that black helicopter landed years ago.

04/10/2009 11:37 PM

That was some dellusional ranting! Why is Mr. H. paying good money to Jr. and Mark just to thwart their efforts. Heck, if they’ve drawn Mr. H’s ire, how do you explain Tony’s performance with HMS engine’s? Heck lets go further back, Bobby Labonte had plenty of success with Hendrick engines. How did Mr. H. manage to orchestrate all Jr’s pit road miscues?

Pam R.
04/11/2009 02:30 PM

Yes! That’s it! Why didn’t I see it before? Hiring Junior was a diabolical plan by Rick Hendrick to assure Jimmie or Jeff would get more championships! Junior would be a much larger threat at Childress. He wooed Junior and Eury into his evil web, kept them isolated in a separate building away from his golden boys and threw substandard equipment at them. (In case you can’t tell, that was sarcasm.)

It’s ridiculous to think of the 5 and 88 teams as R&D. I remember in 2005 the Hendrick teams all ran Mid Valley transmissions at Sonoma. Every HMS car finished 33rd or worse due to a mechanical failure. Every team took the risk, not just the 5 and 25.

When Junior had problems with his transmission popping out of gear at Fontana, Jimmie had the same problem.

In 2008 Junior had one problem with the car all year that caused a DNF. But then again so did Jimmie. Jeff Gordon had two DNFs attributable to car problems.

Last year Junior started off strong. As a matter of fact in the first half of the year Junior out ran Jimmie 12 of 18 races and out ran Jeff 10 of 18 races. He had seven top five finishes and twelve top 10’s. (That’s the very numbers he had for the entire year of 2007 at DEI.) His average finish the first half of the year was 11.2 which was better than any year end average he ever had at DEI. And he was sitting 3rd in points. Yeah, sounds like junk equipment to me.

The second half of the year was a different story. He finished outside the top ten fourteen times in the last 18 races. He finished ahead of Jimmie only once in the second half of the season, but did finish ahead of Jeff 9 times. That’s [i]half[/i] of the races.

Someone explain to me how the 24/48 shop has better equipment if Junior finished better than Jeff Gordon 52% of the time. Someone? Anyone?

So what happened the second half of the year? Was Junior suddenly handed poor equipment? I don’t think so since he was able to beat Jeff on the track in 50% of the last 18 races. Did he forget how to drive? No. Most likely everyone in the field was working on improving their setups and/or driving styles by testing. It’s just my opinion, but I think the 88 sat back on their laurels a little and expected to achieve the same success they had in the first part of the year. Even if you improve, you have to make strides above everyone else on the track just to stay the same.

We know both Jimmie and Jeff tested throughout the year to get a handle of the COT. Jeff’s average finish improved slightly from 14.8 for the first 18 races to 14.2 for the last 18 races; Jimmie’s average finish soared from 14.3 to 6.8; and Junior’s plummeted from 11.2 to 16.9.

As far as this year? Well, he’s starting a little behind the 24 and 48 who worked their asses off last year.

There’s an old saying that says “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. I’m not sure if it’s the crew chief, the driver, the attitude… but there’s no way it’s the equipment.

Contact Vito Pugliese