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Tag:Hendrick Motorsports
Posted on: March 9, 2012 11:42 am
 

Hendrick appeal set for Tuesday

By Pete Pistone

NASCAR announced the Hendrick Motorsports appeal for penalties levied in teh aftermath of the No. 48 team failing pre-Daytona 500 inspection will be heard next Tuesday.

Hendrick Motorsports and crew chief Chad Knaus will both get to plead their case before the National Stock Car Racing Commission’s Appeals Board.

Knaus and the team appealed the $100,000 fine and six race suspension for NASCAR's contention that illegally modified c-posts were found on Jimmie Johnson's car during Daytona inspection on February 17.

Hendrick's case states the car was presented to officials in Daytona after running at two restrictor plate races in 2011. The team questions NASCAR's inspection procedure of only a visual inspection and not running the car through the full template inspection process.

Tuesday's appearance will be Knaus’ fourth before the board; he had a 2005 suspension and fine overturned on appeal, but was denied in three other cases.

 
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Posted on: March 2, 2012 11:41 am
Edited on: March 2, 2012 11:48 am
 

Chad Knaus surprised by penalties

By Pete Pistone


  Jimmie Johnson (L) Talks
(Knaus is with Johnson and the 48 team this week after the Daytona penalties until the appeal is heard)

Chad Knaus
maintained his innocence regarding the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet failing pre-Daytona inspection and completely surprised by the penalty handed down by NASCAR in the aftermath.

Knaus met with the media Friday morning at Phoenix International Raceway and said he's not sure why Jimmie Johnson's car didn't pass inspection and why the subsequent penalties announced by NASCAR were so severe.

"We do everything we can to build the best race cars we possibly can to bring to the racetrack, and that's what we do," said Knaus, who was fined $100,000 and placed on a six race suspension foe the infractions. "Unfortunately, they didn't like something and we've got to address that." 

The parts and pieces in question were the C-Posts of the No. 48 Chevrolet but Knaus says NASCAR inspectors didn't put the car through the inspection templates but rather was pulled out of line and deemed illegal by a visual inspection.

That alone seems to be the sticking point for teamowner Rick Hendrick, who has stated a plan to appeal the penalties, which is why Knaus was allowed to participate in Phoenix this weekend.

"It was just a visual inspection at that point," Knaus said. "We never actually got the opportunity to present that under the templates. So it's unfortunate. There's a bit of subjectiveness to it. That's why we're going through the appeal." 

Johnson and car owner Jeff Gordon also face penalties of 25 driver and owner points respectively, discipline that if it sticks through the appeal process would put the 48 team deep in the hole in the race for the championship early in the season.

“Obviously, I’m deeply saddened of course," Knaus said. "We didn’t expect this.  It’s not the way that we wanted to start off the season.  It is good to have the support of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.  We will go after this thing, hopefully get it resolved and beaten and go back to business.  Right now we are focused on getting through Phoenix and trying to win this championship this year.” 

Knaus is a many time offender and has been suspended more than a time or two during his tenure with Hendrick. But he's not sure if that past track record played any part in how the sanctioning body viewed this situation.

“I don’t know.  That is difficult for me to say.  You would have to go ask NASCAR about that,” he said.

Knaus is not worried about how this latest example of running afoul of the rules may impact his reputation with fans or inside the garage area. The crew chief is only focused on winning races and getting Johnson back into the title hunt in 2012.

Honestly, I’m here to do the best I can No. 48 team, and that is all that really matters to me," he said.  "As far as my reputation goes, I’m not too concerned about that. What we want to do is go out there and do the best thing we can for Hendrick Motorsports, the best thing for Lowe’s and try to win races and championships.” 

 
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Posted on: March 1, 2012 12:18 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 8:33 pm
 

Behind the Hauler: Kenny Francis

By Pete Pistone


  Kasey Kahne(L), Driver Of The #5 Farmer's Insurance Group, And Kenny Francis, Crew Chief Of The #5 Farmer's Insurance
(Francis is hoping to guide Kahne into the Chase and a possible Sprint Cup title in 2012)

Kasey Kahne
and crew chief Kenny Francis have been a successful tandem working together at a number of NASCAR operations. The duo spent last season with Red Bull Racing and went to victory lane in the second to last race of the year at Phoenix in anticipation of their long-planned move to Hendrick Motorsports.

As the 2012 season gears up, Francis is ready to guide Kahne behind the wheel of the Hendrick No. 5 Chevrolet. Although their season didn’t get off to the best start at Daytona with a variety of incidents and bad luck getting in the way, Francis believes a successful season as well as tenure at Hendrick lies ahead.

He joined SIRIUS/XM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” to preview the year and provide his perspective of working with Kahne and at Hendrick Motorsports:
 

Why do you and Kasey work so well together? What is it between you two?

We’ve got a lot of history together Kasey and I and we’ve been through a lot of ups and a lot of down too. We’ve got a great understanding of each other so hopefully we can be an asset to this organization and bring something to the table that’ll help everyone. We’re hopeful and confident that we’re going to run good and do well for Farmer’s (Insurance), all of our sponsors and the organization.
 

When did that chemistry begin?

Well we started working together the last race of 2005 officially but we had obviously known each other before that because he was our teammate at Evernham (Motorsports). So I’d say you know he was pretty young and I was younger too but he had a lot of talent and enthusiasm but I think we hit it off when we first met him. We started developing that relationship…it’s been a good time.
 

Assess him for us Kenny. What are some of the characteristics and attributes of Kasey Kahne that helps you as the crew chief try to get that car to victory lane on a more regular basis?

He’s pretty smart; he’s really good at thinking about the car and figuring out what he needs to go faster. He’s pretty analytical about things. He’s got a real good feel seat of the pants-wise. Which is great, he’s probably one of the most naturally talented people I know but he puts that together with a real good thought process.
 

Can you guys contend for multiple wins and a championship in 2012? A lot of people already have you as title contenders and expect big success in year one at Hendrick?

It’s too soon to kind of say anything. It’s going to take us some races to get used to things and understand the subtleties of these cars. The Hendrick chassis and bodies are a little different than what we had before. It all should be good. At the same time we are trying to sort out new cars and equipment and figure out what we’re building new, what we’re keeping from last year and there’s some uncertainty and unknowns.
 

How is he behind the wheel? It appears he keeps his emotions reigned in.

I think he’s good at that and a benefit yes. I mean everyone gets frustrated in this business, I mean it’s a tough business. You know it’s hard to keep your emotions in check in this business sometimes. Maybe some of that has rubbed off on me because I try to be even-keeled. I think that it’s an asset that you know if you’re having a tirade it’s not really doing anything to help solve the problem you’re having. If you’re going to get through it you have to put some thought into it and he’s very good about that.
 

You said you thought you could help the Hendrick team this year by maybe bringing a new perspective or some added information. Specifically are there things you’ve already been able to bring to the table here in the early going?

Well they struggled last year on their intermediate program and some of the mile-and-a-half tracks and we were able to be pretty successful on what we were doing last year. So that’s one area we’re focusing on. But overall the resources we have to work with and the strength of this organization is something I haven’t really experienced before. Having the stability and the strength of Hendrick behind us is a really good feeling.
 

So what can you guys accomplish in 2012?

Expectations are always high. We think we can contend, win races and when you win races good things happen in the points department. We had a pretty good run last year in some difficult circumstances for a lot of people and we had a good Chase. I’m hoping that momentum can carry over for 2012. We learned a lot last year that will help us this season and hopefully help the entire organization.

Early on we need to get our feet wet and get going, run a few races and see where we're at and see what we've got to work on as we go forward from there. Every place has a little bit different strengths and weaknesses. And we're looking forward to getting going. 

 
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Posted on: February 10, 2012 6:01 pm
 

Kasey Kahne undergoes successful knee surgery

By Pete Pistone

Kasey Kahne is expcted to make a full recovery from Friday morning knee surgery in time for the start of Speedweeks in Daytona next week.

Kahne had an MRI Thursday after experiencing swelling in his left knee. The MRI revealed a torn meniscus, which was treated this morning with a partial medial meniscus removal. Following the common arthroscopic procedure, he was released from an outpatient facility in Charlotte, N.C.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is expected to practice, qualify and race throughout NASCAR’s season-opening Speedweeks in Daytona. Hendrick has no plans to have a backup driver on standby for the No. 5 Chevrolet.

In April 2011, Kahne had a procedure on his right meniscus and earned a third-place finish the following race at Richmond.


 
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Posted on: January 27, 2012 3:11 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2012 3:33 pm
 

Cup teams carry optimism into the coming season

By Pete Pistone


  (L-R) Jimmie Johnson, Driver Of The #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Driver Of The #88 Diet Mountain
(Hendrick is confident his team can return to the championship form it missed out on last season - Getty Images)

This week’s annual NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte wasn’t chock full of breaking news, unless you’re among those who didn’t know reporters, writers and photographers like to eat. Buffet lines were plentiful even if the news was not.

The top two stories of the week spent in the Queen City were most likely Ford’s unveiling of the 2013 Sprint Cup Fusion and DeLana Harvick’s pregnancy, which should give you an indication of the wide spectrum of topics covered on the tour. 

Other than that most of the trek around Charlotte was reserved for teams to outline their plans for the coming season and size up goals for the coming year. 

Although every Cup every organization didn’t participate on the tour, most of the heavy hitters were represented. 

Of course all predict big things for 2012 and multiple wins and championships. To say enthusiasm ran high at every visit is a giant understatement. 

But there was a distinct vibe during every team’s session and although not one competitive lap has been run, it was interesting to gauge the atmosphere around a few of the sport’s high profile operations:  

Stewart-Haas Racing

There is a definite swagger surrounding the defending Sprint Cup championship team. Tony Stewart’s performance last year has solidified this organization as a definite contender for future titles. Stewart has also given the outfit a more personal touch with the addition of crew chief Steve Addington and long-time pal Greg Zipadelli to the Director of Competition role. Throw Danica Patrick into the mix, who appears much more at home now that she’s a full-time NASCAR driver, along with Ryan Newman and SHR came off as a laid back bunch that is having a good time doing what they’re doing. This will be a fun bunch to watch in 2012.

Joe Gibbs Racing

The feeling was much more buttoned down when the Gibbs bunch gave their view of the coming year. Coach Gibbs did come close to breaking the tour record for the use of the word excited, but there was a distinct sense of pressure in the room. Two new crew chiefs and a trio of drivers that are all in their own way facing a pressure-filled situation heading into the season is the reality for Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. There are also questions on how the shift to TRD engines will impact the team’s fortunes as it looks to put last season’s motor woes behind. JGR appears to be at a crossroads this year and its 2012 performance could very well shape its overall direction. 

Michael Waltrip Racing

The off-season facelift for this team brought in newcomers Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin to team up with holdover Martin Truex Jr. Team co-owner Waltrip, who is also slated to drive in a few races this year, kept the mood light during the MWR stop by hosting a talk show featuring his stable of drivers as guests. While David Letterman has nothing to worry about, the result was an opportunity to see the personalities of this quartet of drivers who at least early on in the process seem like they click together. The absolute test will obviously come on the racetrack and like its Toyota counterparts at JGR MWR needs to find some speed to compete on a regular basis. Bowyer and Martin will help elevate the team’s driving talent but equipment and engines are still unknown entities that will impact MWR’s hope to move to the next level. 

  Jack Roush, Owner Of Roush Fenway Racing, Speaks
(Jack Roush celebrates his 25th anniversary in NASCAR and seeks win number 300 this season - Getty Images)


Roush Fenway Racing

It was difficult to get a true sense of feeling around RFR for the simple fact that two of its three Sprint Cup drivers weren’t present at the team function. Carl Edwards was out of the country on a pre-planned vacation while Matt Kenseth was a late scratch due to a family emergency. That left Greg Biffle as the lone Cup driver rep in addition to team owner Roush and GM Robbie Reiser as team reps. Roush will be celebrating its 25<sup>th</sup> year in NASCAR this season and has a remarkable history in the sport including 299 career victories. But whether Edwards doesn’t fall victim to the hangover of just missing out on last year’s championship or Kenseth follows up his Chase appearance last season or Biffle rebounds from an off 2011 are a trio of big question marks at this juncture. 

Hendrick Motorsports

It may sound strange to hear a team as successful as Hendrick has been to be considered reenergized but that’s the case with this four-car stable. Missing out on last year’s sixth straight title has Jimmie Johnson proclaiming he’s “as hungry as ever” and team owner Hendrick was glowing with optimism but his entire organization including Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and newcomer Kasey Kahne. “I’m going to be really disappointed if we don’t have all four cars in the Chase and I’m going to be really disappointed if we don’t win the championship,” Hendrick said. “I can’t remember having four teams this solid, this strong, at the beginning of the year. I think we’re as prepared as we’ve ever been and if we don’t get it (the championship) it's going to be our fault.”  Those words no doubt caught the attention of every other Cup operation. 

Richard Childress Racing

There was more announced at the RCR gathering than the upcoming blessed event in the Harvick household. In addition to Harvick, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard, RCR will field a fourth entry for Elliott Sadler in the Daytona 500 as well as the following four events for Nationwide and truck series regular Brendan Gaughan. There are two crew chief changes among the three Cup drivers and a renewed sense of enthusiasm across the board but particularly with Burton who said bluntly his dismal 2011 “pissed him off.” It will be interesting to see how Harvick’s new personal life developments including divesting his KHI team impacts his season and if Burton finds his way back to being more competitive, as he demonstrated during the tail end of last year.

Penske Racing

There was a sense of relief permeating the air during the Penske media event no doubt the result of the Kurt Busch controversy finally ending. While Busch was not thrown under the bus (in fact Penske said he was personally sending his former driver a letter wishing him well on his new endeavors) it was clear this team is excited to move on with A.J. Allmendinger now teaming up with Brad Keselowski. A contract extension announcement for Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe spoke volumes of how Penske feels about the duo that won three races and made the Chase last season. Keselowski is comfortable with the role of leader he now inherits and Allmendinger’s personality has fit right into the team. 

Hope springs eternal at this time of the year to be sure and every team has reason to believe this will be their season to shine. However the reality of the grueling racing season is about to put those feelings of optimism to the test.

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Posted on: January 26, 2012 2:36 pm
 

Media tour misses key personalities

By Pete Pistone

CHARLOTTE - Not everyone was on hand during this week's annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour in Charlotte.

Several key drivers and team owners were absent due to a variety of reasons.

Roush Fenway Racing drivers Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth weren't present during their team's function. Edwards was out of the country at a pre-planned vacation while Kenseth missed the proceedings due to a family emergency.

Team owner Richard Childress was missing from the trek to his headquarters in Welcome, North Carolina out of a sponsor-related fishing trip.

But Kasey Kahne might have had the best reason to miss the tour as he was fulfilling his civic obligation serving on jurt duty.

“We’re really excited to have Kasey Kahne join our organization,” said Rick Hendrick. “They (Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis) fit in like a glove and we’re really excited to have them added to our organization.”

Naturally, Kahne was the target for a few friendly jokes during the proceedings by his new Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

“For anybody that questions the privileges that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers get along the way and the celebrity that we may have, I think Kasey Kahne is a perfect example,” Gordon said. “Not being able to get out of jury duty is where we stand.” 

 
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Posted on: January 3, 2012 5:08 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 11:17 am
 

2012 Sprint Cup Series driver changes

By Pete Pistone

Fans won't be able to tell the players - or in this case drivers - without a scorecard this coming Sprint Cup Series season. There have been numerous driver changes, swaps and movement since the final checkered flag of 2011 flew at Homestead last November.

You can keep up with all the new faces in new places right here, which will be updated regularly as more changes take place:

No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

In: Kasey Kahne comes over after a one year run at Red Bull Racing to take the reigns of the No. 5 Chevy, which will sport Farmer’s Insurance as its primary sponsor. Kahne signed the deal in 2010 but with nowhere to go in his four-car stable, team owner Rick Hendrick brokered a deal with Red Bull for last season. 

Out: Mark Martin ended his Hendrick tenure at the end of last season with a disappointing performance. Martin has moved on to Michael Waltrip Racing for 2012. 

Our Take: Kahne comes to Hendrick with Kenny Francis and the duo has become one of the best driver-crew chief combos in the Sprint Cup Series. They ended their Red Bull careers on a hot streak and bring that same momentum and confidence to the potent Hendrick organization.


No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

In: Clint Bowyer joins MWR after his successful career at Richard Childress Racing. Sponsor 5-Hour Energy will back the entry for the majority of the season and talented crew chief Brian Pattie comes on board to call the shots after leaving Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. 

Out: Waltrip has added a third entry to his stable to join incumbent Martin Truex Jr. as well as newcomer Mark Martin who takes David Reutimann’s spot with the team. 

Our Take: Bowyer brings MWR’s talent level up considerably and seemed ready for a fresh start after his contract talks at RCR stalled. He was in the enviable position of having a sponsor in hand and chose Waltrip’s operation as the place for the next phase of his Cup career. Getting off to a fast start will be key for the new team’s success.


No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge

In: A.J. Allmendinger slides into the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge in a move from Richard Petty Motorsports. The stars aligned for Allmendinger to get a shot at taking over a car that won twice last season and made the Chase and he seems an ideal fit for team owner Roger Penske’s style.

Out: Kurt Busch “mutually parted ways” with Penske after his tumultuous 2011 season and will drive for Phoenix Racing this season.  The infamous incident with ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch at the Homestead season finale was the tipping point for Busch to end his tenure with Penske Racing. 

Our Take: Allmendinger has been able to perform under tense conditions at both Red Bull and RPM when financial issues played a big part in each team’s day to day operation. He now can rest assured that there will be stability at Penske and can concentrate on trying to elevate his game. There is some pressure taking over the wheel of a successful entry like the No. 22 and trying to win with a rookie Sprint Cup crew chief in Todd Gordon.


No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford

In: David Ragan lands with Front Row Motorsports after being squeezed out of Roush Fenway Racing due to sponsorship issues and not getting the call for open seats at Penske Racing or Richard Petty Motorsports. Ragan stays in the Ford camp with the move.

Out: Travis Kvapil is the odd man out at this poont although team officials haven't ruled out the possibility of a third entry at selected races with Kvapil splitting time with J.J. Yeley and Michael McDowell. A former truck series champ, Kvapil joins the list of drivers impacted by sponsorship issues in 2012.

Our Take: Ragan is a Sprint Cup Series race winner with his Daytona victory last July and has the talent to potentially bring this team up a notch or two in the performance department. But make no mistake, Front Row is by no means anywhere close to having the resources of a Roush Fenway Racing and Ragan will have a challenging season ahead trying to be success with a much smaller and less funded race team.


No. 35 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet

In: David Reutimann has landed with the upstart independent team after his release from Michael Waltrip Racing. The popular driver will pair with Dave Blaney in what TBR hopes will be a two-car effort for at least 26 races with sponsorship dictating the complete schedule. 

Out: TBR ran a handful of races with the car last season that saw the likes of Stephen Leicht, Geoffrey Bodine and Steve Park behind the wheel. 

Our Take: TBR was the quintessential David vs. Goliath story last season and scored some much needed exposure with a number of solid runs particularly at Daytona and Talladega. The team will face another uphill battle this season but the addition of Reutimann and his marketability could bring in additional sponsorship dollars that will in turn help the organization became more competitive.

No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford

In: Aric Almirola was the somewhat surprising choice to take the wheel of the famed No. 43 entry at RPM. Almirola spent last year driving for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series and after running a handful of Cup races for RPM in 2010 was tabbed to fill the seat of the iconic ride for 2012. 

Out: A.J. Allmendinger was granted his release from the team after primary sponsor Best Buy opted to leave for Roush Fenway Racing. Allmendinger then signed on to drive the No. 22 Dodge at Penske Racing. 

Our Take: The good news is RPM remains a two-car effort and that the No. 43 stays on track for 2012. But the team once again faces a rebuilding process taking on a new driver in Almirola to pair with Marcos Ambrose. Allmendinger had made strides to bring the organization up to the next level and seemed to be knocking on the door for his first career Sprint Cup win last season. There will be pressure on Almirola to continue that upward trend.


No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet

In: Kurt Busch takes his much-publicized leap from Penske Racing to James Finch’s operation in hopes of “putting the fun” back into his racing career. The team once again continues its relationship with Hendrick Motorsports ensuring quality cars and potent engines for its 2012 effort. 

Out: Landon Cassill piloted the ride for the bulk of the 2011 season when the 51 entry wound up finishing 30<sup>th</sup> in the final owner point standings. 

Our Take: Right out of the box look for Busch to be a factor at Daytona as Finch’s teams always perform well at restrictor plate tracks. The former series champion’s considerable talents automatically elevates the organization and it won’t hurt having someone of Busch’s stature when hunting down new sponsors. But whether Busch is in for the long haul when tough times inevitably come for the small, one car operation remains to be seen as well as whether he can take the team further up the point standings.


No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

In: Mark Martin signed a two-year deal to drive the former No. 00 Camry with sponsor Aaron’s on board in a 25-race schedule. Team owner Waltrip plans to pilot the entry for five more races at Daytona, Talladega and Kentucky.

Out: David Reutimann was released at the end of last season with Waltrip and sponsor Aaron’s citing a lack of performance as the main reason for the change. 

Our Take: Martin still has the desire to drive and at times showed he could get the job done last year in both his time with Hendrick’s No. 5 Sprint Cup entry as well as some limited starts for Turner Motorsports’ Nationwide program. The 25-race slate should fit perfectly into Martin’s limited schedule desires. Waltrip’s four plate race starts as well as the home date in Kentucky will provide exposure and publicity for the sponsor, the former Daytona 500 winner and spokesperson extraordinaire's specialty.


Dropped teams

No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

The loss of full-time sponsor UPS forced team owner Jack Roush to shut down his fourth entry for the 2012 season leaving David Ragan on the unmployment line. Despite winning his first career Sprint Cup Series race last July at Daytona, Ragan was forced out of RFR at season's end.

No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Sponsorship issues led to team owner Richard Childress to eliminate this entry from his Sprint Cup stable and to part ways with Clint Bowyer, who left for Michael Waltrip Racing. RCR goes back to three teams for the 2012 season with Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard

No. 4 and No. 83 Red Bull Racing Toyotas

The departure of Red Bull as both owner and sponsor of this team means two less entries for the 2012 Sprint Cup Series campaign. General Manager Jay Frye was not successful finding new investors to keep the organization's doors open and an official shut down was the aftermath. While Kasey Kahne has landed at Hendrick Motorsports, Brian Vickers does not have a ride lined up for the new season. 


2012 CREW CHIEF TRACKER


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Posted on: January 2, 2012 1:47 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2012 3:46 pm
 

2011 Team Review/Preview: Hendrick Motorsports

By Pete Pistone


Image Detail
(Jimmie Johnson's run for a sixth straight Sprint Cup Series championship in 2011 came up short for Hendrick)

Review


For the first time since the 2005 season Hendrick Motorsports did not celebrate a Sprint Cup championship. 

Jimmie Johnson’s amazing run of five straight titles came to an end last season putting a period on one of the most incredible accomplishments in sports. 

"Just thinking about it, like wow, it really is over," Johnson said. "I'm disappointed that it is over but very proud of what this team has done. What we have done over the last, really, 10 years, the last five obviously stand out, but what we have done as a group over the 10-year run so far has been truly amazing." 

Johnson did make the Chase as did his Hendrick teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. but none of the trio was really able to mount a run at the title. 

Johnson’s regular season included 17 top five finishes including a victories at Talladega and Kansas. But once the playoffs began, Johnson could not muster the championship magic that brought him titles from 2006 through 2010. 

“We had a lot of things that happened with the wreck in Charlotte and Talladega,” team owner Rick Hendrick said analyzing Johnson’s Chase performance. “We played our cards wrong at Talladega, our whole organization did, to have cars as good as we had and end up where we did. But that’s racing. I think when you’ve tasted the success they have, and now you’ve been beat, you’ve got to go to work, and you’ve got to come back stronger.”

Jeff Gordon came back to perform stronger in 2011 than he has in recent years and scored three victories with new crew chief Alan Gustafson. 

It marked the first time Gordon had put together a multiple win season since 2007. 

Gordon’s victory in the second race of the season at Phoenix kicked off the solid season that also included wins at Pocono as well as an historic effort at Atlanta when the four-time series champion registered his eighty fifth career victory.




The win put Gordon alone in third-place on the all-time series victory list and he was overwhelmed by the presentation from NASCAR president Mike Helton in victory lane.

"Everybody knows when Mike Helton speaks he has a way with words," Gordon said. "So to be up there, get presented that beautiful plaque that they put together with all the victories, just looking back on all the people that have contributed to it from Hendrick Motorsports, different crew chiefs and crew members and guys in the engine shop. I mean, it’s a team effort." 

But despite carrying tremendous momentum into the Chase, Gordon stumbled and in the end was eighth in the final point standings. 

"It's just disappointing because I feel like Alan is a guy that deserves a championship and deserves to be up there battling for one,” Gordon said. “He proved it with Mark (Martin) and I thought we were going to prove it this year with the way we were running leading into the Chase so it's disappointing, but I'm hoping that next year now having a year under our belt and we get along well. I've got just a ton of respect and belief in him and I feel the same thing is in return that puts us in position to have a great year next year." 

Like Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. enjoyed a comeback season that saw the sport’s perennial most popular driver make the Chase for the first time in three seasons. 

While Earnhardt wasn’t able to end his now three year winless drought, he was as competitive as he’s ever been during his tenure at Hendrick and finished the campaign seventh in the standings. 

Earnhardt gave much of the credit for his turnaround to the relationship shared with new crew chief Steve Letarte, who took the reigns of the No. 88 team last season. 

"We just have a lot in common and our personalities make it where it seems like it's easy for us to have a conversation," Earnhardt said. "I've been spending a ton of time around the hauler all day long during each day on Friday and Saturday and when you're sitting there you just never know when that idea or that thought is going to come into your head or come into [Letarte's] head about what might really be able to help the car.

"And if you just sit around long enough, eventually it's going to pop up and I want to be there for that conversation; I don't want him texting me on the phone while I'm in the bus going, 'Hey, I think I know what we can do.' I want to be there so that I can understand and talk about it. I think that's helping us." 

Unfortunately the lone Hendrick driver to not make the Chase last season was veteran Mark Martin, who ended his tenure with the organization in 2011.

Martin and crew chief Lance McGrew struggled to find the right balance most of the season. Martin, who will join Michael Waltrip Racing next season, finished the year with only a pair of top 5 finishes.

 

Preview 

Martin’s departure makes way for Kasey Kahne to take the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet. After a one year stint at Red Bull Racing, which included a November victory at Phoenix, Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis bring their considerable chemistry to the Hendrick organization.

"I'll be so excited and happy to get back in a race car, it's crazy," Kahne said. "Joining Hendrick is exciting. It feels good. They've given me such a good opportunity, I need to take full advantage of it and perform. It may take a little bit of time to figure everything out, but I think we can get off to a pretty quick start."

Kahne figures to be a formidable foe for all of his Hendrick teammates including Johnson, who is using the end of his championship streak as motivation in 2012.

“We have a lot to learn from this year and [crew chief] Chad [Knaus] and I have already been in meetings throughout this last week setting up wish lists of what we think we can do better, how we can do a better job at it,” Johnson said. “We are moving forward on next year and figuring out how we can dissect weak spots, if it is on track, you know pit calls have changed dramatically this year, what can I do differently as a driver, all those different components, we are addressing and working on them now.”

Gordon also plans on taking what was accomplished in 2011 as a foundation to build for a better new season.

"It's easy for us to be hanging our heads and think about the disappointments, but I'm also reminded and encouraged of how great of a year this has been for us," Gordon said. "With the three wins -- we did have incredible momentum coming into the Chase so I think as a competitor and as a race team, we certainly are very focused on what we did wrong and what we're going to do to make it better next year."

And season number two of the Earnhardt-Letarte combination also comes with high hopes from the duo.

“We learned a lot last year and had some success,” said Letarte. “We didn’t finish the job by winning races or the championship but I’m very convinced this race team can accomplish those goals in 2012.”
 

Outlook

Only by Hendrick’s high standards could 2011 be considered a down season for the organization. That will happen when you take home five straight titles. But the entire four-car stable should all be considered championship contenders heading into the new season and the entire quartet could very well be in the Chase. All eyes will be on newcomer Kahne as he finally gets an opportunity to run with a stable and solid team, something that was missing during his tenures at Richard Petty Motorsports and Red Bull. Johnson is determined to snap back to championship form while Gordon and Earnhardt bring positive momentum and confidence into 2012. Overall this powerhouse team will be a major factor in the coming season.


CHECK OUT MORE POSTS FROM OUR 2011 TEAM REVIEW/2012 PREVIEW SERIES 

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com