Tag Archives: Hendrick Motorsports

Harrowing Daytona finish highlights safety, sportsmanship

(Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line, Austin Dillon hurled into the catchfence.

Daytona International Speedway—a restrictor plate track—is as prestigious and dangerous as they come. The mix creates an allure one can’t ignore. The high speeds and close racing make for the type of weaving and cutting a skilled seamstress would take pride in.  The historic venue has been a stage for the most prideful moments in the sport of racing.

It’s also been the platform for the fiercest ones as well.

Sunday night was one of those moments.

The start of the Coke Zero 400 was late. Excruciatingly late. Weather shoved the sort into late-night infomercial territory, and many knew that peculiar things tend to happen in that realm. With the green flag waving around 11:45 p.m. ET, the masses settled in for a night full of adrenaline, speed, and nail biting.

In some way, they all hoped this would be worth the all-nighter. Drivers and crews desired a trophy and Chase berth by dawn. Spectators wanted their money’s worth, unsure of what that might entail.

Regardless of all wishful thinking, the festivities began.

Earnhardt was the clear favorite; starting from the pole, the No. 88 shot out front every possibly chance. His fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammates were also fast, yet no one was in the two-time Daytona 500 winner’s zip code. As the race progressed, he leaned on Denny Hamlin to draft him. Hamlin—who made risky moves work all night—obliged, and the two led a six- to seven-car breakaway in the race’s last 50 laps.

Slicing and dicing is a crucial part of restrictor plate racing, and it must be done with precision. A driver has to get it right, or things will get messy. That happened multiple times throughout the night, with two large wrecks taking out various contenders. Smaller incidents paused the action, giving everyone the opportunity to breathe and regroup.

As the laps dwindled away, urgency intensified. Minutes and hours ticked away. Time was running out—for the competitors who wanted to make a move and for the supporters who needed to clock in.

It came down to a green-white-checkered finish. The field restarted side-by-side, and they remained that way until the width expanded. As Earnhardt pulled away, followers scrambled to gain positions.

The white flag waved. At any other track, it was half past “go time,” but this was the moment Daytona—and the GWC rule—was designed to create. Its result, however, was not part of that plan.

Hamlin got loose and spun next to the finish line. The No. 11 came back and tapped Dillon, who proceeded to go airborne. More cars collected underneath the No. 3 as it flew into the catchfence. Debris rained into the stands as the machine bounced back onto the racing surface. Brad Keselowski’s car was skidding sideway down the frontstretch and slammed into Dillon’s side, putting the Richard Childress Racing car on its hood.

The mangled machine stopped at the end of pit road. Earnhardt’s pit crew rushed to the damage, falling to the ground and peering into the cockpit. The entire NASCAR community held their breath as more people flocked to the scene.

The sight of every crew member standing and giving a thumbs up filled every viewer with relief and emotion—and then fear.

Four fans sought treatment in the infield care center, while one went to the hospital in stable condition. There are two reasons no one was injured more seriously—the catchfence and the Daytona rising project. The tall, reinforced barrier did its job, keeping Dillon’s car inside the track. The expensive reconstruction plan pushed the grandstands away from the fence, placing a wide walkway between the fans and the action.

Praise is necessary. So is action.

There will be outrage over the incident; columns about danger will come out of the woodwork, and some mainstream media will broadcast this in a crooked way. A lot of good can come out of this accident if logic prevails.

The image of Earnhardt’s crew members rushing to Dillon’s side is the personification of sportsmanship. While their driver claimed victory, they chose to provide aid. Fellow competitors are thankful he survived such a terrifying accident.

Sunday night serves as a reminder to those who drive and those who observe. This is a dangerous sport. These athletes put their lives on the line to do what they love, and fans seek enjoyment from their risky lifestyle.

There is much to take away from that night, yet one is quite prevalent—there is always room from humanity and improvement in sports.

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Johnson survives rain, late-race caution to win at Kansas

A lot of people dislike Jimmie Johnson, and that should make the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion smile.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver soared to victory lane at Kansas Speedway after making a risky pit call. With less than 10 laps to go, crew chief Chad Knaus determined they would stay out while others went to refuel and get tires. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. followed his lead, putting HMS on the front row with six laps remaining.

Heavy hitter Kevin Harvick attempted to climb back into the battle but only made it to second. The Stewart-Haas Racing machine was stout all evening, staying in contention throughout the entire evening.

“Entire” means before and after the rain delay.

Mother Nature rained on the NASCAR parade once again, unleashing a monsoon right before halfway. The hiatus lasted more than two hours, allowing fans and drivers to refocus and relax. This time was vital to the No. 48 team, who struggled in the first half of the Spongebob Squarepants 400. The weather was the enemy, yet NASCAR won out.

Once the race started up again, the action was abundant. Periods of three and four-wide didn’t go unnoticed, and neither did the impressive work by Martin Truex Jr. The Furniture Row Racing team has been close every weekend, and Saturday night seemed like his night. Unfortunately, the team decided to come down pit road and put two tires on. He couldn’t gather enough steam to make a run at Johnson.

The driver of the No. 48 secured his third win of the season and the 73rd of his career. This puts him seventh on the all-time winners list, only three victories behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. He also celebrated his 200th top-five and 300th top-10.

People don’t like seeing the same person in victory lane over and over again. Kyle Busch can attest to that fact. However, the haters are a good sign. It means Johnson is doing something right. There’s no doubt he will win a seventh championship. It’s the “when” that’s up in the air, yet it might not be that way for long if he keeps up his winning ways.

Earnhardt’s emotional victory overshadows final laps at Talladega

Everyone has that complex. You know, where you see the trashcan overflowing and say to yourself, “Oh, someone else will take care of that, so I won’t.” In psychology, it’s referred to as the Bystander Effect (although it’s technically about aiding victims of crimes).

And if you doubted that racing was psychological, Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway proved otherwise.

The 2.666-mile track is one of two restrictor plate layouts, and a specific standard is in place when NASCAR heads to these venues. Fans expect to see pack racing, where the cars are three-wide and the tension is tangible. That’s what makes Talladega and Daytona International Speedway special.

Unfortunately, Sunday’s event was only special for one reason. I’ll get to that later on.

The fact that weather didn’t threaten the action got the day off to a good start. Hendrick Motorsports claimed the front row, with Jeff Gordon on the pole and Kasey Kahne in second. Intensity mounted as the race began, cars going three wide to make up for bad qualifying efforts. Various drivers were in the mix, including Tony Stewart and rookie Ryan Blaney.

Around 15 drivers fell victim to “The Big One” and ended their afternoon early. Trevor Bayne got loose, and that’s all she wrote. A red flag allowed crews to clean up the damage. Drivers regrouped and refocused.

The rest of the race shifted between pack racing and single-file, and the latter prevailed in the last 15 laps. Twitter was alive, fans ranting about how drivers needed to make their moves. Everyone—fans, commentators, and drivers alike—began feeling antsy and waited for the big breakaway.

Laps dwindled down. Ten, nine, eight…nothing. The cars raced next to the outside wall, a long train just chugging along. Nobody went for it, they didn’t want to be first. Drivers figured someone would stick their neck out, and everyone would follow.

The white flag flew, and Denny Hamlin was that someone. The field immediately fanned out. Chaos swallowed up the back half, wrecking on the backstretch. As the race kept green, the fan favorite led like he did the majority of the event. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag and claimed his first victory of 2015.

Now, there are a few things that made this race disappointing. The lack of breakaway and caution for wreckage are the big two. However, that all washed away as Earnhardt emerged from his car in victory lane.

Overcome with emotion, the HMS driver could barely speak. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, would’ve celebrated his 64th birthday a few days ago, yet that wasn’t the only reason he was nearly crying.

“I’m in such a good place right now, with my personal life…I’m so blessed, I really am.”

When NASCAR’s “Most Popular Driver” is overwhelmed and humbled, it’s a great day.

Genuine emotion is hard to come by today, and it’s refreshing to see one of the most famous and richest athletes let his guard down. On a day that lacked the “true racing” that’s expected at restrictor plate tracks, his interview and humility were needed.

There’s no real explanation as to why drivers kept to themselves the final 15 laps. Maybe it’s the Bystander Effect. Maybe everyone simply wanted to play it safe. Either way, it was everything Talladega is not.

Daytona 500 qualifying makes Gordon happy, others furious

Jeff Gordon winning the pole for the Daytona 500 almost erased NASCAR’s blunder –almost.

In his final full-time season, the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion starts the sport’s biggest race from the front row. The storybook feel was present, yet it couldn’t overshadow the confusion and anger boiling in many drivers’ veins.

Sunday’s qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway only sets the front row for the Daytona 500. The remaining drivers find their spots on Thursday when two 150-lap races go underway. Traditionally, single-car runs would determine the first two positions and the lineup for each Budweiser Duel race. This year is different with NASCAR adopting the ‘knockout’ qualifying format for deciding the slots.

Knockout qualifying debuted last season yet wasn’t run at Daytona or the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway, its fellow restrictor plate track. The fall race at the Alabama racetrack, however, proved drivers, fans, and media that the format and restrictor plate tracks didn’t mix.

Despite this, the sport decided to try it again in an attempt to ramp up the once mundane session.

The field split into two groups for the first and second rounds of qualifying, eliminating drivers along the way. Those remaining came together for the third and final session. Each round lasted five minutes.

As the first group ventured onto the track to log times, only a few minutes passed before chaos ensued. Reed Sorenson and Clint Bowyer collided and tore up their machines. Sorenson –who only had one car for Daytona—blocked Bowyer and ended up ruining both their days.

The red flag waved, and it quickly sunk in that this format was dangerous for drivers and their teams’ wallets. The driver of the No. 15 decided to express these concerns to NASCAR on FOX reporter Jamie Little. (Click HERE for the YouTube video of Bowyer’s rant. There is cursing in the video’s title.)

“It’s idiotic to be out here doing this anyway. There’s no sense in being able to try to put on some cute show for whatever the hell this is.”

He also added, “But it ain’t [Sorenson’s] fault. It’s NASCAR fault for putting us out in the middle of this crap for nothing.”

Once the words were said, other drivers began voicing their opinions. Richard Childress Racing driver Ryan Newman said on FOX, “It’s hard to stand by NASCAR when no one on pit road understands why we’re doing this.”

Kurt Busch compared the format to using bingo balls while team owner Tony Stewart vented on Twitter. Under his official handle @tonystewart, the three-time NSCS champion noted, “Today use to be about showcasing the hard work from the teams over the winter. Now it [sic] a complete embarrassment for our series.”

Meanwhile, the final round produced a product that was script-worthy; Jeff Gordon will start first in his final Daytona 500, with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in second.

Though the end was magical, Sunday’s qualifying session was lackluster.

STARTING POSITIONS IN THE BUDWEISER DUELS

Duel One: Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Johnny Sauter, Trevor Bayne, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, JJ Yeley, Paul Menard, AJ Allmendinger, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Casey Mears, Michael Annett, Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, Clint Bowyer, Justin Marks, Cole Whitt, Landon Cassil, and Ron Hornaday, Jr.

Duel Two: Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ty Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr., Greg Biffle, Sam Hornish, Jr., Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ryan Blaney, Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, Alex Bowman, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, Brian Scott, Justin Allgaier, David Gilliland, Jeb Burton, Reed Sorenson, David Ragan, Josh Wise, and Mike Wallace.

Elliott to run full-time for Hendrick Motorsports in 2016

Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday morning that Chase Elliott will run full-time for the organization in 2016.

On the matter, team owner Rick Hendrick said, “[Elliott] brings the kind of intangibles that make him the total package as a driver. Not only is he a special talent inside the car, but there’s a natural combination of competitiveness, work ethic and smarts that you rarely see.”

The 19-year-old joins HMS this season, competing in five races in the No. 25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. Kenny Francis, former crew chief of fellow HMS driver Kasey Kahne, will crew chief Elliott during his limited schedule.

Elliott plans to race at Martinsville Speedway in March and the spring race at Richmond International Raceway. His roster also includes historic events such as Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Coca Cola 600, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

NAPA Auto Parts is also the primary sponsor for Elliott in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The reigning champion, he will also run full-time for JR Motorsports in 2015. He is the youngest champion in any NASCAR touring series. His father, former NASCAR champion and fan favorite Bill Elliott, will join the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday evening.

“My parents especially have believed in me every step of the way, and I know this wouldn’t be possible without all the sacrifices they’ve made to focus on my racing career. This is such a big weekend for our family,” Elliott stated after the announcement was made.

The news comes one week after HMS driver and four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon confirmed that he was retiring after this season. With many commenting that Elliott was his replacement, the young driver took to Twitter and voiced his thoughts.

In a picture posted on his verified @chaseelliott account, the driver wrote: “Jeff Gordon will never be replaced. And it will be a true honor to drive the 24 next year. This is one of the biggest days of my life, and a childhood dream come true. I simply hope to do my job for my team.”

Legendary: Gordon announces 2015 will be his final full-time season

GORDON
“Letting team know this will be my final year competing for a championship.” (Via @JeffGordonWeb, Gordon’s official Twitter account)

It was a day that loomed on the horizon, yet no one truly believed it until official word came down.

Thursday morning, Hendrick Motorsports and driver Jeff Gordon announced that 2015 will be Gordon’s final full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

With four championships in the sport’s top-level, the California native is a legend; over 22 seasons, he and HMS owner Rick Hendrick have built a remarkable dynasty and partnership. The current generation of NASCAR fans relate Gordon with the words ‘respect,’ ‘drive,’ and ‘genuine,’ which are all accurate descriptions.

However, now that he won’t be on track every weekend, things feel a bit out-of-place.

“I don’t foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing,” Gordon said in the organization’s release. “I’m a fan of all forms of motor sports, but particularly NASCAR. We have a tremendous product, and I’m passionate about the business and its future success.”

Away from the track, the driver is known for his approachability and philanthropy. “The work we’re doing with the Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Foundation will continue to be extremely important to me. Outside the race car, my passion is pediatric cancer research, and my efforts will remain focused there when I’m no longer driving.”

A shoe-in for a spot in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, Gordon has acquired 92 victories, ranking him third all-time. In 2014, he won his fifth Brickyard 400, the most in NASCAR competition. He is also a three-time winner of the Daytona 500.

It is unknown what he’ll do after 2015, yet that’s how it should remain. In the meantime, all eyes will be focused on a legend’s final ride.

Kahne signs contract extension as No. 5 team gets new crew chief, sponsor

Lift Master will be a primary sponsor for the No. 5 three races each year, starting in 2015. (Credit: LiftMaster.com)
Lift Master will be a primary sponsor for the No. 5 three races each year, starting in 2015. (Credit: LiftMaster.com)

A lot of bustling is going on over in the Hendrick Motorsports camp.

NASCAR isn’t a full week into the offseason, but the No. 5 team of Kasey Kahne is making changes. Earlier this week, it was announced that Keith Rodden would return to HMS to crew chief Kahne. Rodden left his position as Kahne’s lead engineer to crew chief Jamie McMurray.

The switch severs the driver’s long-running partnership with Kenny Francis, who has been his crew chief since Homestead in 2005. It was the second-longest driver/crew chief relationship, behind the championship-winning duo of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Rodden joined them in 2006, a crucial part of Kahne’s team until he moved in 2013. Matt McCall will take his place on top of the No. 1’s pit box.

As if that weren’t enough, Thursday brought news that Kahne signed an extension with HMS, tying him to the No. 5 car until 2018. A new sponsor is also joining the mix; Lift Master, who appeared on McMurray’s car since 2012, will become a primary sponsor for Kahne from 2015 to 2017. It will be featured three times next season.

The contract extension puts to rest the rumors that 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott will replace Kahne. After a difficult year for the team, the questions kept rising, and nobody had real answers. The result was a slight overhaul for the team, securing their driver, a new crew chief, and a sponsor in the matter of a few days.