Jimmie Johnson, Rick Hendrick and Lowe’s announcing a contract extension shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone.
And that’s exactly how they want it.
“Everybody’s on the same page,” Hendrick said Friday. “The key to success I think is keeping people together. [We want to] keep this thing together for the foreseeable future.”
Why not? Since the start of the 2002 season, just three teams have had the same driver and primary sponsor combination: Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Matt Kenseth. With DeWalt’s departure from the No. 17 car after the season, that number’s reduced to two – Hendrick Motorsports men who’ve combined to win (barring a catastrophe) eight championships between 1995 and 2009.
Those same drivers also build cars in the same shop, share their information, and look at everything they do at the track as a “team effort.” It’s a killer combination of two being better than one… while keeping the right people in the right places to gather experience and support that’s currently unmatched anywhere else.
“One of the big influences [at Hendrick] was when the [No.] 48 came on and the [No.] 24 shared everything with them seamlessly,” admitted Gordon on Friday. “It may have taken a little bit of an advantage away [from the No. 24 team.] But I think it gave a bigger advantage to Hendrick Motorsports as a whole.”
It’s teamwork combined with no turnover, the difference between why the two-car shop of the No. 5 and No. 25/88 has struggled through the years compared to the No. 24 and No. 48. That consistent framework leaves no cracks in the armor, leaving competition scratching their heads at what they’ll do to catch up. Indeed, the most striking thing Friday in talking to drivers inside and outside the Sprint Cup garage is the level of defeatism many feel in wondering how they can stop a Hendrick juggernaut that’s set up over the long-term.
“We’re in a predicament,” admitted Greg Biffle Friday. “We can’t test anywhere, our simulation is not proving to be enough, otherwise we’d be competing and winning races now.”
“So I don’t know what we’re going to do to be more competitive… because if we knew, we’d be doing it right now.”
Perhaps the lone hope for Roush, Gibbs and others is if they could somehow pry championship crew chief Chad Knaus away from the No. 48. But while his deal wasn’t made official at this weekend’s press conference, Hendrick was adamant he’d be partnered with the No. 48 for the long haul.
“Chad has a multi-year deal,” he said. “Chad and I have talked about retiring together. So we’re in the process of getting that all papered.”
That would leave the key cogs of this machine intact, with no changes, for at least the next four years. Everything’s been put together in a way to win more races and championships with ease.
And until someone’s willing to step up to the plate and take them out of their comfort zone, chances are five, six, seven, even eight titles aren’t out of the question at this point.