By admin | June 10, 2008
By Richard Allen
The New England Patriots started off the last NFL season by winning 18 consecutive games, but they lost the game that mattered most, the Super Bowl. Because they had gone undefeated throughout the regular season and because they had won three championships since 2001 most considered their season incomplete. They had set high standards and thus, expectations were high,. So, when they failed to win another championship their 18-1 campaign was labeled a disappointment.
The New York Yankees have won 26 World Series titles over their storied history. Because they have set high standards and because expectations are great, any season that ends without a World Series ring is considered a failure.
Using those two championship models as a guide, can we label the season being put together by Hendrick Motorsports a failure, at least so far?
HMS has won the past two Sprint Cup championships. They have won seven Cups since 1996. Three separate drivers, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Jimmie Johnson have scored season titles for the NASCAR super power.
So far in 2008, Hendrick drivers have only managed to tally one win, Johnson’s victory in Phoenix. However, the organization has amassed 16 Top 5 finishes and 25 Top 10 results among its four drivers.
Just about any other NASCAR team would love to have statistics like those. If Michael Waltrip Racing, Haas/CNC Racing or Bill Davis Racing had numbers comparable to those over an entire season it would be said they had an outstanding 2008 campaign. But when it is Hendrick Motorsports putting up those numbers through just 14 races people begin to ask, “What’s wrong?”
Of Hendrick’s four drivers, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been the most solid. Although he has yet to win he has posted six Top 5s and a team leading ten Top 10s.
It may be more than just coincidence that the top team in this organization is made up of a driver and crew chief who came from somewhere else last season. Part of the HMS downfall, if you want to call it that, in 2008 no doubt has to do with 2007.
Two Hendrick cars battled to the wire for the 2007 championship. Problem was, they were doing much of that battling with a car that would no longer be used once the season ended. The two top HMS teams, #24 and #48, were spending much of their time and resources trying to beat each other and working on an outdated car. Because those two had moved so far ahead of the competition the other teams in the garage area began to focus their energy on the Car of Tomorrow. That reality has come back to haunt HMS this year.
Earnhardt and crew chief Tony Eury, Jr., like everyone else, had already put their emphasis on the CoT while the Johnson and Gordon crews were otherwise occupied.
Of the other HMS teams the #48 Johnson team seems to be the closest to regaining the form expected of this organization. He has the company’s one win, but perhaps even more importantly, he has had a contending car in the most recent races. Blown engines and pit problems have had more to do with any lack of success he has suffered than simply not having a competitive car.
Casey Mears has but two Top 10 finishes to show for his year thus far. He has shown very little to get excited about in the #5 car.
Of the entire Hendrick stable, however, perhaps it is Gordon who is the most puzzling. There have been some races in which he has looked like the competitive Jeff Gordon of old while there have been other races in which it has almost seemed as though he was not even there.
Gordon has six Top 5s which is tied with Junior and Roush Fenway’s Carl Edwards for second most in the series behind Kyle Busch, but he has only seven Top 10s. It has been very much a feast or famine sort of effort for the four time champion thus far.
HMS has 3 of its 4 drivers inside the all important Top 12 of the point standings. And, of course, the Chase for the Championship format is the great equalizer. There could easily be another Hendrick driver hoisting the big trophy at the end of 2008.
So, if we were to assign a grade to Hendrick Motorsports so far this year would we deem their effort a failure? Maybe so, but remember, failure by their standards would be regarded as success in many other places. And like the New England Patriots and the New York Yankees, Hendrick Motorsports has earned the right to be called a “successful failure”.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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