NASCAR

NASCAR: Rick Hendrick's Science Experiment Looks To Be Working

TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 17:  Jimmie Johnson (FRONT), driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, hugs teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. (BACK), driver of the #88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet, in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 17, 2011 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IApril 18, 2011

Rick Hendrick orchestrated a radical change when he moved three of his four drivers to new teams, but the chemistry looks to be having a positive effect.

At the end of the 2010 season, only one team was consistently strong. It was Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 team led by crew chief, Chad Knaus, and they won their fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title.

Now Dale Earnhardt Jr. resides with the champion in the 48/88 shop at Hendrick Motorsports. The Aaron's 499 at Talladega was won by Johnson, but he couldn't have done it alone.

He and Earnhardt Jr. ran in tandem throughout the race, and it was the driver of the No. 88 that did the pushing right across the finish line.

Junior felt the two were faster if Johnson was in front. It was a decision that proved to be a good one even though the No. 88 came in fourth.

The four couplings of eight cars were so close at the end that Johnson won over Clint Bowyer by a mere .002 seconds.

Jeff Gordon came in third and Mark Martin, who had been Gordon's pusher, fell back for an eighth place finish.

Johnson picked up the checkered flag and did his burnout. Dale Jr. ran to the car to congratulate his teammate.

Johnson showed real class by offering the flag to Junior because he was a big part of getting the win for the Lowe's team.

According to Johnson in a post-race media session on NASCAR.com, Earnhardt said, "I can't take that."

Johnson offered him the trophy and in his excitement just wanted his new best friend to have something, so he said, "Take the damn flag." Earnhardt accepted the flag from the race winner.

Gordon was feeling really sick, but you never would have known as he and Martin stuck together through the entire race and came on strong enough at the end for Gordon to smell the scent of victory.

Gordon broke his extended winless streak at Phoenix—the second race of the season. Earnhardt is still winless for 101 races, but to see the smiles today, one would have thought he won.

Hendrick Motorsports ended the day with all four teams in the top-10, and three of them in the top-five.

Rick Hendrick has every right to take pride in the results of his driver swap experiment.

Carl Edwards remains the NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader. Johnson is second in points, Earnhardt is third, Gordon is 13th followed by Martin in 14th.

Martin's team may be the weakest link in the Hendrick chain as they go through his last year at HMS. Martin remains upbeat and there is no reason why he won't win and perhaps make the Chase.

The pre-Chase season is pretty much one third over, and the Cup series will be off next week, but for now, things are looking pretty good at Hendrick Motorsports.

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