With a twinkle in his eye and sigh of relief, Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick looked like a kid who had just walked out of shopping spree at the neighborhood candy store this past Sunday.
After watching three of his chase drivers finish in the top 10, including the victory by Jimmie Johnson driver of the No. 48 Lowes sponsored Chevrolet, Hendricks was full of pride.
Hendrick's praise for one of his star driver's as well as his crew chief Chad Knaus cannot go unnoticed, and most of that comes from the chemistry, trust, and the bond that they have built together.
“I'm just proud of the way they work together," Hendrick said. "Chad and Jimmie have just been unbelievable. To watch them, I said this earlier today, I'm just glad I don't have to race against them.”
The accomplishments that have followed Hendrick throughout the years are pretty amazing when you take a short trip back in time.
Hendrick won his first cup championship back in 1995 with Jeff Gordon behind the wheel, but he didn’t stop there. He collected the next three with Terry Labonte, picking up the next championship in 1996.
Gordon would come back the year after Labonte won his, and pick up the next two in 1997 and 1998, giving Hendrick four in a row. The stread was a feat that had never been done by a team owner.
Now here he is 11 years later getting ready to tie his own history setting mark after winning the cup in 2006, 2007, and 2008. But which driver will it be that will give Hendrick No. 4 in a row, and ninth overall?
Jimmie Johnson is looking to add to his total of three consecutive championships, and with a championship on Sunday, he would become the first NASCAR driver to win four in a row.
Mark Martin can pick up his first championship and at the same put himself in the history books as the oldest NASCAR champion at the age of 50 by dethroning the three time champion.
Jeff Gordon, who hasn't won a championship since 2001 when he picked up No. 4, could put himself two closer to Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty with No. 5 by first getting by Johnson and Martin.
“It's an awesome feeling," Hendrick. "I really have a hard time explaining how proud I am of the organization, these guys right here, just unbelievable.”
Hendrick also added that as “I said this morning, Jimmie could be getting his fourth and setting a record that no one's ever done, Mark could get his first one, or Jeff could get the fifth one.”
The point standings alone tells another side of the story of just how dominating the Hendrick team has been, even though they are minus one driver from the chase.
But even that didn’t put a damper on the season that Hendrick knew his team was capable of.
It could easily be said that Mark Martin picked up a lot of the slack with the dream season that he has had so far, and it looks like the last race at Homestead will come down to a duel between Martin and Johnson for the championship.
“You know, we thought we would be good this year, knowing that one of our cars is going to win it. They’ve got to believe, and they do, said Hendrick. I think it's been good for us. I love the way the crew chiefs work together, complement each other. The drivers, you hear Mark on Jimmie, Jimmie on Mark," said Hendrick.
It’s almost hard to fathom that in the 25 years that Hendrick Motorsports has been a part of NASCAR racing, that they already have eight championships with one more waiting on the horizon.
The stress factor that goes along with having four top notch drivers under one banner has to be tremendous, but on the flip side very gratifying as well.
“I think the mentality of working together and being able to work under these kind of conditions when you're battling each other for the same goal, but you go into a room together on Saturday and you break it all down and you open up and you share, it's taken us a long time to get here, to get to that point,” Hendrick said.
“I can tell you what I'm going to do already in Homestead. But I'm going to go to the third place guy, the second place guy, and then the champion.”
What a great position to be in as a car owner, so NASCAR might as well put table on the stage for Mr. Rick Hendrick, because from the looks of things he will be spending a lot of time up there.
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