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Hendrick shakes up his teams

The good news for Hendrick Motorsports in 2010 was Jimmie Johnson’s unprecedented fifth straight Sprint Cup Championship. Nobody, but nobody has been cooler and more efficient under pressure than the tandem of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.
Colorful and exciting or not, after their performance this past season, you have to mention them in the same conversation with the all-time greats. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s seven championships apiece have seemed untouchable for years. Not since the heyday of a young Jeff Gordon has there been talk of someone matching or beating their championship totals. Not anymore. At age 35, it is not at all unrealistic for Jimmie Johnson to win another two or three championships. Time will tell.

Team owner Rick Hendrick can now boast ten Cup championships for Hendrick Motorsports. The organization arguably boasts the glitziest lineup of drivers on the circuit, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, the sport’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the ageless Mark Martin.
Can’t beat that for a powerhouse lineup. Trouble is, with all that high power, and one might add expensive talent, only Johnson won races in 2010.
Rick Hendrick didn’t rise to the positions he has attained in the automotive or racing communities by being timid about making decisions. Just three days after celebrating the team’s latest and perhaps greatest championship with Jimmie Johnson in Miami, Hendrick dropped a real bombshell.
Last Wednesday with everyone ready to get on with their Thanksgiving holiday, Hendick held a teleconference with the media. Rick Hendrick began with, “I want to apologize to all the folks here getting ready to leave town for Thanksgiving. This actually started about the Texas race. When we returned from Texas, I called a meeting with all of the crew chiefs, engineers, aero people, and engine shop. We all got together for about a three hour meeting, and I used one of Winston Churchill’s quotes. ‘It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.’
I think in a nutshell our whole organization after last year and ‘09 winning the championship and being 1-2-3 in the points, we thought we made some adjustments and I think we just kind of got complacent, and other teams were getting stronger and stronger.
“We were not where we needed to be so we started to really try to step up our program in every area, and I think that after the championship we decided that these moves would make all four teams better. The excitement inside the organization yesterday afternoon and last night, I think everybody is pumped, excited, and I think we have a kind of new energy level to attack and get ready to go into 2011.”
Hendrick continued, “The meeting was not about any realignment. It was about, ‘Guys, look just because we’ve won a lot of races, and we won a ton of races in ‘09, and we were just off this year. The No. 48 was off, and we needed to make a lot of things better.’ It was about how can each individual make our program better. This was not a move we made because of Dale Jr.’s situation. All those factors weighed into it, but I think when I looked into the personalities, and the strong traits of each team and each crew chief and then looked at the drivers and looked at starting to do something to make a change to pair up people that I thought would be better together. It’s probably one of the most radical moves I’ve made in all my years of racing.
“This will improve us as an organization, across the board. We had a championship season in 2010, but we weren’t where we wanted and needed to be with all four teams. We’ve made the right adjustments, and I’m excited to go racing with this line up,” said Hendrick.
You may reach Pete Barber at talkinracing@journalpress.

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