Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick and his drivers have always prided themselves on how well everyone works together.
Teamwork and team cooperation between all four cars is a major part of working for the best team in NASCAR.
Nowhere is that more evident than with HMS drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who have become great friends through the years. On and off the racetrack the two are always together.
Even during the Chase for the Championship and the final 10 races of the season, Gordon and Johnson always maintained their close relationship.
Take, for example, Martinsville in 2007, when Jimmie Johnson was 43rd on the practice sheet. That Saturday night, crew chief Chad Knaus went to Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, Steve LeTarte, and asked for the data sheet from the No. 24 car.
LeTarte handed it over and Johnson went out and won the race, by beating Gordon no less.
It’s a pattern that continues to repeat itself with all of HMS crews and drivers.
When things were going bad during practice, they all would get together and work it out; whatever one needs, the others would provide.
That took center stage late in 2007 when Gordon and Johnson both ran first and second in points and battled to Homestead-Miami for the title.
They’re teammates and competitors that both want to win a championship, but they’ve always done what’s best for the company.
Sunday at the Texas Motor Speedway, everyone at Hendrick Motorsports showed that they really do believe that NASCAR is a team sport.
When points leader Jimmie Johnson crashed on lap four and had to go to the garage for repairs, it wasn’t just the No. 48 crew that started to thrash on the mangled car.
Soon, teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s team came down to provide assistance.
Earnhardt, Jr. isn’t in this year's Chase for the Championship and lived up to his word that he would do anything he could to help his teammates win the championship.
So, when the No. 88 team went to assist Johnson’s team, it wasn’t out of the ordinary.
But then, teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon’s teams, who sit second and third in points behind Johnson and are trying to beat him for this year's title, also arrived in the No. 48 team's garage stall to help.
Wait; help the man they’re trying to beat?
Instead of trying to capitalize on the misfortune of Johnson, the rest of the HMS crews came to the rescue to try to get Johnson back on track quicker in order to earn him as many points and positions as possible.
Points that would not be beneficial to Martin and Gordon to lose, but they took that chance by helping out their teammate.
They could have stayed away and let the No. 48 team members fix it themselves; after all, they have won the last three straight titles, they would have figured it out. Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, and crew know what they’re doing.
However, during the most critical time in the season, with just three races left, HMS once again looked out for their own.
If this had taken place during the first 26 races, that would have been an excellent thing to see, and it would show why Hendrick Motorsports is a step above everyone else in NASCAR.
To be the best, you have to beat the best, which has consistently been Hendrick Motorsports. And when they work together, they are nearly unstoppable, as they have shown for much of this season and years past.
But when the drivers are running first, second, and third in points with three races remaining in the season and the title up for grabs, shouldn’t it be every man for himself?
Where’s their true competitive nature? Find the “I” in team and go out and beat the man that has whipped everyone’s tails the last three seasons.
Think of it like a restrictor plate race.
For the first 100 or so laps, a driver will work with any other driver that is willing to draft with him, but he'll mostly be looking for his teammates.
Every driver knows, however, that come down to final 50 circuits, and especially on the last lap, it is every man for himself.
When contending for a championship, shouldn’t it be the same way?
Jeff Gordon has already admitted that his friendship with Johnson has become strained because he’s sick of losing to him. Mark Martin should be sick of finishing second in points, never having won a title.
Sunday afternoon, though, they must not have been sick enough because it didn’t appear they had any objections to helping their title rival get back in the race.
For Martin and Gordon, it’s hard enough to beat Johnson when he has the same equipment they do. Hendrick Motorsports has an open door and open note policy, but now that they’re helping him, it’s going to be even harder.
It also makes it harder for fans to watch.
Some already can’t stand the team that dominates year after year. They want new faces in victory lane and a new man hoisting the season end championship.
Which meant that when they saw the fellow HMS teams rush to Johnson’s aid after his wreck, many screamed that they should get out of his garage. They don’t want to see Johnson get any more help in winning his fourth straight title.
Actually, they don’t want to see Johnson win his fourth straight title at all.
But on Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports once again showed why everyone wants to drive for them. They’re one big family that will continue to look out for each other, while still trying to beat each other.
That means they want to keep the playing field even so that in the end, the best man will win.
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