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NASCAR’s King of the Hill

While waiting for the coronation of Jimmie Johnson for his fourth straight NASCAR Cup Championship, we should be aware of another historic achievement by his team owner, Hendrick Motorsports.
Much has been made of Jimmie Johnson’s impending fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. This season also marks the first time in the sport’s history that one organization has swept the first three positions in the points race. The only question with two races to go, is whether Mark Martin or Jeff Gordon will finish second. Barring an early exit in either race for Martin or Gordon it looks like Johnson, Martin, and Gordon in that order.

When the season wraps up, it will be Hendrick Motorsports’ ninth NASCAR Cup Championship: Four each for Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Terry Labonte won the title for Hendrick in 1996. Only the now-defunct Petty Enterprises with 10 championships between 1954 and 1979 can claim more championships on NASCAR’s premiere circuit. You get the feeling that Hendrick Motorsports has just been hitting its stride the past few years. If it’s moving or shaking in NASCAR, odds are Rick Hendrick has a hand in it.
Hendrick drivers finished first and second in 1996 when Terry Labonte narrowly defeated teammate Jeff Gordon for the title. Founded in 1984, Hendrick Motorsports started as a single car team by Rick Hendrick who owned a championship drag racing boat team before coming to NASCAR. Hendrick founded “All-Star Racing” with Geoffrey Bodine as his driver. The team entered 30 events, winning three that first year. The team really got cranking when Hendrick signed a young up-and-coming open wheel driver, 21-year-old Jeff Gordon in 1993.
Since its humble beginnings 25 years ago, Hendrick Motorsports has undoubtedly become the gold standard of American automobile racing. In addition to their four in-house race teams, Hendrick supplies engines and technical support to Tony Stewart’s, Stewart-Haas Racing. The unprecedented success of the first year of Stewart-Haas Racing putting both drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup has been the talk of the sport.
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. felt compelled to part ways with his stepmother and the family business, DEI, following his father’s death, it was Rick Hendrick who stepped in and provided the needed counseling and expertise to transition the sport’s most popular driver and marketing machine away from DEI. Unfortunately, to this date, Dale Jr. has not been able to equal the success of the other Hendrick Motorsports drivers on the racetrack. Getting Jr. back to the winner’s circle is proving to be Hendick’s most frustrating challenge.
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. came to Hendrick Motorsports, he and Rick Hendrick became partners in Dale Jr.’s Nationwide Series race team, JR Motorsports. If there is any other driver who has rivaled Dale Jr. as a marketing brand the past few years it has been Indy Racing League drive Danica Patrick. For the past year the rumors have been rampant — would Danica make the move to NASCAR? If seemed the real question was not if, but when. This past weekend we got the answer.
Danica Patrick will make her stock car debut in the ARCA race at Daytona in February. If she is approved by NASCAR, based on her performance in the ARCA race, Patrick will drive in the Nationwide race during the upcoming Speedweeks at Daytona. Rumor is that as Patrick has been shopping for a stock car ride, her asking price has been a cool $300,000 per race. So who is Danica driving for? None other than JR. Motorsports.
Signed by Rick Hendrick, word is it’s a two-year deal, with Danica running a few ARCA events and approximately 12 Nationwide races, while continuing to run a full schedule for Andretti Green racing on the Indy Racing League Circuit. No word on the terms of her contract with JR Motorsports/Hendrick Racing, but you can bet they won’t be holding any benefits to raise money for Ms. Patrick any time soon. Once again, the biggest deal in the sport goes through Hendrick Motorsports.

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