By admin | August 8, 2010
By Richard Allen
Going into this past weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen it would have been hard to imagine that the most powerful team in the sport would have such a miserable time of it. The highest finishing driver officially under the HMS banner was Jeff Gordon in 10th place.
There would have actually been reason for HMS to be optimistic going into the weekend. Gordon came into this race having won on the road course circuit four times. Mark Martin had won at the Glen three times. And more, Jimmie Johnson had taken the checkered flag in the series’ last road course event at Infineon Raceway while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. came home 11th in that race.
The scene seemed to be set for a typical Hendrick weekend. However, that was not to be the case.
Right from the outset of Friday practice the HMS drivers and crew chiefs were scratching their heads. By the time of Saturday’s qualifying session there had been little improvement.
Johnson was the highest placed HMS driver on the starting grid after a run that slotted him in 9th place. Gordon posted the 16th fastest time, with Martin 24th and Earnhardt 40th.
In various interviews Gordon admitted that while he had once been a driver to beat on the track, he had not felt as confident since the inception of the Car of Tomorrow. Johnson spoke of how his team had changed many things on their car and Junior simply stated that his was the worst car he had ever had at the Glen.
While there is no doubt that Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson and Martin have many supporters, there is a certain element of fans who relish in their misfortune. These folks have very few opportunities to celebrate as at least one or two of these drivers are almost always at the front of the field. This turned out to be one of those rare times when every Hendrick driver struggled.
As was said, Gordon placed a company high 10th. Martin was 19th on a day when the door had been thrown wide open for him to make a major gain on Clint Bowyer, who was just ahead of Martin in the Chase for the Championship standings. Earnhardt languished all day and finally landed in 26th while Johnson crashed and limped home 28th.
None of those finishes take into account Tony Stewart’s 7th place for the Stewart-Haas Racing team, which operates under the HMS umbrella.
Johnson addressed his team’s woes in particular at the end of the day. “I think we overcame a lot throughout the weekend,” he said. “I know the result doesn’t show it, but we unloaded and had a lot of troubles. We got the car turned around and qualified ninth. Then I had an early flat tire and rebounded from that and drove all the way through the field back to ninth again and had that contact. … Hate that it happened, but what do you do?”
This was not a banner day for Hendrick. There have been few of these over the last decade and there will probably be very few in the future. No doubt, many of those Hendrick haters out there would like to see more races run at the Glen.
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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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