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Hendrick offers no guarantee of success for Kahne: Without Johnson, HMS on par with other top teams

By admin | April 19, 2010

By Richard Allen

With the recent news that Kasey Kahne will be joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, there has been a great deal of speculation as to what the future holds for the driver.

The initial guess work surrounding Kahne has been in regard to where he will drive in 2011. With his contract at Richard Petty Motorsports set to expire at the end of this season and his new contract with HMS not to begin until 2012, that leaves next year open.

Make no mistake, he will be driving for HMS in 2011. He may be sitting in the seat of a Stewart-Haas Racing car or a JR Motorsports car, but either way, the team Kahne drives for will be using HMS equipment and will likely be crewed by the same people he will be with in 2012.

Further conjecture on Kahne’s future has been in regard to how well he will do driving for HMS. Many believe that sitting in a Hendrick seat is a guarantee of success. However, that is not necessarily the case.

Surprisingly, statistics show that HMS is only a slightly above average team when Jimmie Johnson’s recent run of dominance is taken out of the equation. So that leads to the question, is the success that of HMS or is it just a run of Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus that has made it appear as though HMS is superior? In other words, if Johnson and Knaus happened to be with another team would that team be the one that seems to be so dominate?

Johnson or not, one thing is for certain. HMS is a marketing machine like no other in the sport. And, it is the richest organization in NASCAR according to Forbes Magazine.

For the purpose of proving my point as to whether HMS is better than other teams without Johnson and Knaus, I looked at three other teams going back to the year 2006. I used 2006 because that is when Johnson began his current championship run. The teams used for comparison are Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

I know it is not really reasonable to remove Johnson from the comparison because the simple fact is, he does drive for HMS. But, removing him is essential for this particular comparison.

The three HMS cars to be used are the #24, #5 and a combination of the #25 and the #88. The drivers in this time period include Jeff Gordon in the #24, Mark Martin and Kyle Busch in the #5, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Brian Vickers in the #25/88. Casey Mears drove both the #5 and #25 during this time frame. Since 2006, these three teams have scored 19 wins, 122 top-5s and 197 top-10s.

Although, for all intents and purposes Stewart-Haas Racing is an HMS team, I did not figure them into the mix. Obviously, putting last year’s statistics from that team in with the Hendrick bunch would have made a difference.

For RFR, I have chosen their three best teams despite the fact that this organization has had as many as five teams on track at the same time. The #16, #17 and #99 were examined. Greg Biffle in the #16, Matt Kenseth in the #17 and Carl Edwards in the #99 have handled the driving for RFR. Since 2006, these three have compiled 25 wins, 126 top-5s and 218 top-10s.

As can be seen, when Johnson is removed from the equation RFR leads HMS in ever statistical category since 2006.

Joe Gibbs Racing essentially has only three teams. The #11, #18 and the #20. Drivers for this organization since 2006 include Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, J.J. Yealy, and Joey Logano. Few would argue that because of the lack of depth in this organization as compared to HMS and RFR, the statistics will be hampered by the time in which Yealy drove the #18 and by the year of introduction Logano had in the #20 last year.

With that said, JGR has scored 30 victories, 113 top-5s and 181 top-10s since 2006. They have won more races than the Johnson-less HMS and only trail in top-5s and top-10s by a small amount.

Richard Childress Racing had a particularly poor season in 2009 which has definitely lowered their numbers. They have won 12 times since 2006 and have brought home 79 top-5s and 190 top-10s with drivers Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. The fourth team this organization fielded for Casey Mears was not factored into the equation.

While RCR’s wins and top-5 are well below those of HMS, their number of top-10s compares very well.

There are a couple of key points to all of this. First, simply signing a contract with Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t guarantee anything other than that the driver will be well funded and highly marketed. Wins and championships at HMS are most often set aside for one team. While the other three teams there have done well, they have not dominated to the extent many might think.

So, it is not a certainty that Kahne will win multiple races or any championships at Hendrick. He is a very talented driver. But there other talented drivers who compete for the ‘other’ three teams, among them one of the most talented drivers of all time.

Secondly, the next point is that without Jimmie Johnson, HMS is pretty much on par with each of the other major teams in the sport. I know that is like saying the Chicago Bulls of a generation ago were just an average team without Michael Jordan. Johnson is part of the organization. But aside from his remarkable record of the last four seasons, this would be a very good company, but not necessarily a great one.

When most racing fans think of Hendrick Motorsports, they think of an organization that dominates NASCAR and that any driver who works for them will be certain of placing trophies on his mantle. That is not necessarily the case if your name does not happen to be Johnson. Just ask Earnhardt, Vickers and Mears just how true that is.

Follow @RacingWithRich on twitter.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

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3 Responses to “Hendrick offers no guarantee of success for Kahne: Without Johnson, HMS on par with other top teams”

  1. Charles Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    You are correct going to Hendrick does not quaratee success, if Jimmy Johnson and Chad stay together he would have his work cut out for him!

    But how could you not blame him!


    Hendrick= teams counting Gordon, Labonte, Johnson = 9 point titles in 15 years!

    Chevy = Going to Chevy he will have a easier time driving because “Nascar does little to even it up”, and with the politics they get to dominate more than they dont!
    Chevy have won apox 75% of point titles in 15 years or longer! Not to mention the almost the same for the coveted Daytona 500, Talledaga etc!

    Why even 50 year old Mark Martin had a great year last year, dont see why Kahne would not!

    But for Nascars sake, I think if would be better if he went to another team! but for business sense which now is all Nascar is about he probably made the right move!

  2. Mark B Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Try to remember which teams finished 1,2,3, last year.
    Not Rousch Not Gibbs

  3. Stephen Hood Says:
    April 21st, 2010 at 6:55 am

    I think you are spot on. The challenge for this era of NASCAR is Jimmy doesn’t have a rival. Every time someone has a standout year, they fade the next. Busch and Edwards come to mind. Maybe Hamlin is the dude to challenge Johnson, but I doubt it. Every time Hamlin wins, Johnson is second. Win Johnson wins Hamlin is usually well behind. Unlike Kenseth (consistent), Johnson is consistent and he wins. Kurt Busch wins but he’s inconsistent. Kyle Busch seems to be shooting for consistency, but it seems to effect his ability to win.

    Maybe what Johnson and Knaus have mastered is the risk to restraint ratio. What I mean is that they have figured out how to push their car to the limits necessary to win without risking a complete meltdown. Whereas Kyle Busch would race the car to its limits and then some resulting in wins and DNFs, Johnson is able to restrain himself enough to minimize the poor finishes. The newly restrained Busch is finding it harder to end up in victory lane. Gordon seems to have thrown off the restraints and is getting closer to victory and Hamlin may have found the ratio.

    I think Johnson’s challenger is going to have to come from his own house and I expect it to be Stewart or Gordon. Yet, Stewart and Gordon have fallen as Johnson has risen. By your analysis a Gibbs car is most likely to upset the apple cart. Maybe next year will be the year for Joey L. I think if Busch or Hamlin were going to truly challenge Johnson, they would have already done it by now. Kesolowski is ballsy enough to do it, and his car is getting better. But he’s probably two years out.

    Oh, Johnson.