Race Weekend Central

Pressure Cooker: Hendrick Motorsports Driven to Perform

The first thing that becomes apparent entering the Hendrick Motorsports complex is pride. At the top of the hill, each of the shops which houses a pair of race teams displays the numbers of the racecars housed inside in super size on the wall. 5 and 24. 48 and 88. This is what we build here. Racecars. And Excellence.

Take a stroll through the on-site museum and there are mementos everywhere of the team’s greatest successes: trophies, racecars, videos on the monitors. This is a team that’s as proud of its past as it is of its present. The team center where the teams meet weekly has a banner hung for each of the organization’s 14 NASCAR national touring series championships: ten Sprint Cup titles, a Nationwide Series and three Camping World Truck Series championships. On the wall, there is a Hendrick logo for each of the company’s 199 Cup Series wins with the car number, driver, and racetrack where the victory was taken. The spot for umber 200 is clearly marked; whichever of the team’s four drivers next finds victory lane will permanently occupy that spot in the team’s-and NASCAR’s-lore.

Isn’t Finding Speed Kind Of the Point?

It’s all about possibility.

This week, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams take to the racetrack for the first time since the engines fell silent at Homestead, it’s about nothing _but_ possibility. Right now, for every team, every driver, and every driver’s fans, a win is a possibility, a Chase berth is a possibility, a championship is a possibility. Once the season starts, that will evaporate into reality for all but the sport’s elite, but for now, anything is possible.

Daytona testing doesn’t need the fancy moniker of Preseason Thunder to make everyone around the sport take notice. It’s been a long winter, and this is the first sign to race fans that spring will once again arrive, even if there is snow on the ground and frost in the air. It’s coming-can you feel it?

Best of 2011: Unqualified Failure: Racing Isn’t About Speed Anymore

_Editor’s Note: With 2011 winding down and the holidays upon us, it’s time for the Frontstretch Staff to reflect on another great year. As part of that, we’d like to remind our readers of the year’s special highlight, Amy Henderson, who received the website’s first ever award from the National Motorsports Press Association. Henderson won second place in the Daily / Internet Columns category, for this column printed below and several others. We hope you enjoy rereading each one daily as we finish off our season with the best of the best._

While 43 race teams prepared their cars for Saturday’s last practice sessions and Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, what was happening to three other teams told an entirely different story. As race preparations began, the No. 90 Keyed-Up Motorsports entry driven by Casey Mears, the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet driven by Johnny Sauter, and the No. 46 Dodge of Whitney Motorsports and driver Terry Cook were packed up and pushed onto their haulers for the long trip home, having qualified 44th-46th for 43 spots. It happens every week, and it’s never fun to watch. But the slowest cars have to go home, right?

BEST OF 2011: A Sport In Crisis: RPM Just One Card in NASCAR’s Deck

“The house of cards is finally falling for George Gillett’s Richard Petty Motorsports.”

These words, written by “FOX Sports’ Lee Spencer,”:http://msn.foxsports.com/nascar/story/Richard-Petty-Motorsports-in-financial-crisis-in-NASCAR-Sprint-Cup-ranks-102110 began what has become the biggest story in racing this week. As Gillett’s empire crumbles around him, RPM could be the latest casualty for the beleaguered owner of several different properties, including the soon-to-be-divested Liverpool FC soccer club. But Gillett’s financial and personal woes are really just the tip of the iceberg of a Titanic-sized problem brewing for the number one stock car series in America. The team’s potential demise is a microcosm of a sport in crisis, the joker in a NASCAR house of cards becoming increasingly fragile.

BEST OF 2011: At The Heart Of It All, It’s Not About NASCAR; It’s About Racing

_Editor’s Note: With 2011 winding down and the holidays upon us, it’s time for the Frontstretch Staff to reflect on another great year. As part of that, we’d like to remind our readers of the year’s special highlight, Amy Henderson, who received the website’s first ever award from the National Motorsports Press Association. Henderson won second place in the Daily / Internet Columns category, for this column printed below and several others. We hope you enjoy rereading each one daily as we finish off our season with the best of the best._

Kurt Busch Out At Penske Racing

Kurt Busch will not return to Penske Racing in 2012. According to “a Charlotte Observer report”:http://www.thatsracin.com/2011/12/04/80040/penske-racing-fires-kurt-busch.html Busch has been released from the No. 22 Penske Dodge, and a formal announcement from Penske Racing is expected on Monday. At the moment, Busch’s legal counsel has denied this story, according to the AP’s Jenna Fryer on her “twitter feed,”:http://www.twitter.com/JennaFryer/ claiming Penske Racing has not made any type of decision on the future. However, several sources with knowledge of the situation confirm that a divorce from Penske is imminent.

Let The Games Begin

If only Don King liked cars going in circles, the boxing promoter would be smiling proud this Friday morning. Heading into Homestead-Miami, the tete-a-tete battle between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards just ratcheted up a notch in the form of a little pre-race posturing.

For most of the past few weeks, it’s been Stewart driving this phenomenon, doing most of the talking as a man who never hesitates to speak his mind. And that’s how it started on Thursday afternoon, Smoke signaling to the national media he won’t back down from the challenge of unseating NASCAR’s Sprint Cup point leader.

Kyle Busch Will Race, But Can Anybody Win?

Nearly a week after Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch was parked for the weekend at Texas following an incident in the Camping World Truck Series last Friday night, the sport is still buzzing with reaction and speculation about the driver, the punishment, and the future.

The picture still wasn’t terribly clear on Thursday night, just hours before the Cup cars were scheduled to open the weekend practices, though a couple of the pieces have fallen into place.

Busch Drew the Line in “Boys, Have At It,” But Why Did NASCAR Let It Get This Far?

NASCAR is a racing series built on rivalries. Even more than that, it is a sport that thrives on them. Through 62 years of competition, each individual era has been defined by these mano-e-mano, on-track boxing matches: Petty-Pearson, Allison-Yarborough, Yarborough-Waltrip, Wallace-Earnhardt, Earnhardt-Gordon… the list is long and storied, full of current and future Hall of Famers. Rivalries, when they are played the right way, have helped make the sport as popular as it is today.

But even with NASCAR’s “Boys, Have At It” policy, there is a line not to be crossed. During Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race, “Kyle Busch crossed it when he deliberately wrecked Ron Hornaday, Jr. under caution.”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDBd0CLjOwc

Who’s Carrying Whom? The Question Behind the No. 48

When a young Jimmie Johnson burst onto the Sprint Cup scene in the fall of 2001, he was given one of the most coveted rides in the sport: a brand-new Hendrick Motorsports team, co-owned by Jeff Gordon, in an organization that had won five championships since 1995. When Gordon hand-picked Johnson, a lot of people were surprised; though Johnson had top-10 points finishes in the then-Busch Series in 2000 and 2001, he only had one win and there was nothing earth-shattering about it.

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