Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trouble in Hendrick Paradise?

Rick Hendrick's 4 NASCAR teams are nothing short of a dynasty. Fielding cars for #24 Jeff Gordon, #48 Jimmy Johnson, #88 Dale Jr., and #5 Mark Martin has been, and would seem to be a perfect situation for Hendrick. They are the most powerful, most successful team of cars, perhaps, in NASCAR history.

Gordon has 4 Cup championships. Johnson has 4 Cup championships, in a row. Dale Jr. is, and has been, the most popular driver in NASCAR. Martin is probably the most respected veteran in the garage, and has proven he is still a threat to win a championship.

So, what's the deal?

Gordon, along with the rest of NASCAR, is sick and tired of Johnson winning. Even though Gordon owns half of Johnson's team, it puts him in the difficult position of being both team owner and direct competitor. It's worked until now, but the frustration at Johnson's dominance is showing through. It came to a head at Texas this past Monday during the race, when the two bumped fenders repeatedly, cussed at each other over the radio, and expressed 'disappointment' at each other in post race interviews. Trouble is brewing between those two, and how it plays out will be interesting - will Jeff the driver try to fire Johnson, only to find Jeff the owner standing in the way?

Gordon wants a fifth championship. Johnson wants his fifth straight. I see a lot more clashes developing between these two on track, and interesting team meetings on Monday mornings.

Dale Jr. seems to be happy for the first time since he signed with Hendrick. He supposedly has the same quality equipment as the 24 and 48 teams, but it has not resulted in wins. He has been frustrated, but the team's better performance so far this year has him smiling in public, at least a little bit.

Martin was elated at siging with Hendrick and the #5 team. His race wins last year, along with serious contention for the championship, put a spring in his step we hadn't seen in years. However ... last week Hendrick announced the signing of Kasey Kahne to drive the #5 in 2012. It is a bizarre situation. Martin has a contract to drive the 5 in 2011, and no contract for 2012. Kahne now has no ride for 2011, but will drive the 5 in 2012. Martin has announced he will not stop driving after 2011. Everyone is smiling on the outside, but you have to wonder about the undercurrents - the very real possibility of hard feelings. I hope not - Mark is one of my favorite drivers, even though he does drive a Chevy now.

All the other teams in NASCAR are hoping, silently, that trouble does hit the Hendrick organization, and hit it hard. That would seem to be the only way that the other teams will break the Hendrick dynasty.
Update - In today's NASCAR race at Talladega, nearing the end of the race, Johnson blocked Gordon, forcing him down into the out of bounds area, breaking Gordon's momentum, and leading to a wreck that severely damaged Gordon and two other cars. Gordon's crew managed to repair the car enough for him to get back out and salvage a finish in the mid-20s, but he went from a car contending for the win to a wreck, due to ahis teammate's deliberate action. In post race interviews, Gordon did not mince words about his frustration with Johnson, and flat out stated something has to happen.

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