Race Weekend Central

Good News/Bad News – The Real Story of Hendrick Motorsports’ Wild, Whacky Season

Hendrick Motorsports has been a classic good news/bad news story this season and the hits just kept on coming at Martinsville. If there is one organization that could use a week off from whatever manner of terrible things might happen to them next, it would be this one.

If anything, that race was a snapshot of the up-and-down rollercoaster ride of emotions they’ve all been on in pursuit of the 200th Cup Series win for team owner Rick Hendrick. Don’t think it’s just one of their drivers that has been a story all season – it’s all four.

Kasey Kahne

Good News: Hendrick finally got their prized possession into the seat of the No. 5 car for 2012. Selected about this same time back in 2010 to be the newest driver of the star-studded HMS stable, many in the media were clamoring for Hendrick to put Mark Martin out to pasture a year earlier than his contract stated, in order to make room for the driver nearly a quarter of a century younger.

Bad News: Six races deep into 2012, Kahne finds himself the meat in a David sandwich in the points standings between Gilliland and Reutimann, 31st in Sprint Cup Series points with zero top 10s, a pair of poles and an average finish of 28.5, and not even within a whiff of Chase contention. Well that was certainly worth the hype, pomp and circumstance. By comparison, the driver many were hoping to oust early for Kahne was preparing to win his second race of the year at Darlington in his first year at HMS.

Good News: Kahne posted a fourth-place finish last year at Darlington – even though he about knocked the turn 2 wall down in the in the process and surrendered the win after leading with 10 laps left to Regan Smith.

Bad News: If he does that again or blows another engine, he won’t be able to blame it on a family member and fire them.

Jeff Gordon

Good News: Super G has been super fast all season long; the No. 24 has been knocking on the door to victory lane ever since the bottom blew out of the engine on the backstretch at Daytona. Martinsville was his race until the green/white/wrecker restart, having lead 328 laps while battling teammate Jimmie Johnson for the win, and was in contention at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. before the gas can got wedged in the receptacle during a pit stop.

Before that, an errant bump from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol cut a tire down and sent him spinning into the wall. At least he hasn’t had a tangle with Kahne. Yet.

Bad News: They only pay a point for leading a lap and the most during the race – the big chunk comes when you actually finish and the No. 24 bunch has not yet finished where they have been running, save for an eighth-place result at Phoenix. Crew chief Alan Gustafson has consistently been putting fast cars under Four-Time, but the ends have not justified the means or the effort.

Good News: Gordon hit 215 mph during a Goodyear tire test at Michigan International Speedway on Tuesday (April 3).

Bad News: Gordon hit 215 mph during a Goodyear tire test at Michigan International Speedway on Tuesday. That act of awesomeness may give rise to restrictor plates at Michigan or give everybody who’s ever said they should knock down the banking at Talladega exactly what they’ve wished for.

Jimmie Johnson

Good News: Johnson got to keep crew chief Chad Knaus, car chief Ron Malec and his 25 points that were initially taken following an inspection “discovery” at Daytona.

The No. 48 made hay while the specter of losing their spiritual leader, taskmaster and diabolical genius atop the war wagon hung over their heads. A fourth-place Phoenix run despite having the fastest car in town, a runner-up in Las Vegas and top-10 runs at Bristol and Fontana proved this is still a championship-contending team that does not bow to pressure easily.

He led 128 laps at Martinsville before being punted along with teammate Gordon by Clint Bowyer on the first of the two overtime restarts.

Bad News: Despite this heady performance, Johnson is the second-highest ranked driver at HMS at this point in the season. Johnson currently sits 10th in the standings and has a 10-point lead over 11th-place Carl Edwards. Besides Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and teammate Gordon, there really aren’t a lot of threats behind Johnson to cause concern for being bumped out of the Chase – though a win would certainly be nice.

Bad News: Johnson has won but since Talladega last April. Would you ever have thought you’d see the day when Five-Time had won only one more race during the same year time span as Smith?

Good News: During that same time span, Carl Edwards has as many wins as Smith

Dale Earnhardt Jr:

Good News: After toiling in relative obscurity since 2009, Earnhardt finds himself in a time warp back to 2004. No, he didn’t win the Daytona 500, but suddenly he’s second in points, trailing series leader Greg Biffle by only six markers. A far cry from even a year ago, when many were muttering what it was going to take for Earnhardt to not only win, but simply become relevant once again.

Early in 2012, Junior appears more involved, committed and just as hungry as in his former glory days driving the iconic No. 8 Budweiser DEI Chevrolets where he appeared poised to carry the mantle of his late father.

Bad News: Earnhardt has not won a race in nearly four years. Teammate Johnson has won three times as many championships as Dale Junior has won races during that same stretch. Granted, I’m not sure Jimmie would have enjoyed the same success if he had Lance McGrew wrenching on his cars, but it’s startling nonetheless.

Good News: After everybody had beat a hasty retreat out of Martinsville to rid themselves of the mass quantity of chili dogs consumed over the weekend, Earnhardt stuck around, still in his firesuit, talking to and thanking all of the members on his team and debriefing with crew chief Steve Letarte.

After he changed, he returned to the garage to spend more time with his team and talk, and is looking more and more like the leader his father matured into over the years.

Bad News: He still looks like a homeless guy with that beard. Not sure how he can stand it in the summer when it’s 100 degrees and humid. Part of me wonders if there is a small family of nuthatches that are living in it and that’s why he hasn’t shaved in a while.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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