Sprint Cup team preview: Hendrick Motorsports
January 26, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Reigning Cup-winning organization shows no signs of slowing in 2014
-- Team owner Rick Hendrick added to his record collection of NASCAR championships in 2013 with an 11th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title -- the sixth for driver Jimmie Johnson.
-- 2013 marked the second consecutive year all four Hendrick drivers qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
2014 Driver Lineup
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet; Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet; Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet; Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet
A championship this year for Johnson would give the driver seven titles and tie him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. He and crew chief Chad Knaus have proven themselves the winningest combination in the modern era and perhaps all-time. Johnson -- who won six races in 2013, including his second Daytona 500 -- goes into the season the strong championship favorite.
After being added to the Chase as the 13th driver, four-time champ Gordon made the best of the opportunity, posting his best championship finish (sixth) since 2009. He won a race and a pole during the 10-race Chase and seems to feel like things are clicking with crew chief Alan Gustafson.
Earnhardt Jr. turned in his best championship performance in nearly a decade, finishing fifth in points and proving himself a legitimate contender even if he still came up short of a win. This will be his last year with crew chief Steve Letarte, who is leaving the team to work on NBC Sports race broadcasts next season. Both men have committed to making their final season together memorable and victorious. Earnhardt has only one win since 2009.
After finishing a career-best fourth in the 2012 championship, Kahne and his team had high expectations for last season, but ultimately fell short -- ranking 12th, despite winning two races. Nine times he finished 30th or worse. He and longtime crew chief Kenny Francis remain together and are hoping to regain the contender form that has long been expected of that team.
All four teams in this organization remain solidly intact for this season and should expect their greatest obstacle to a championship to be one of their teammates.
How will Johnson handle the extra attention and outside pressure all season while on the verge of a historic accomplishment? While others keep asking Gordon when he's going to retire, the 42-year-old is more concerned with making another serious run at a fifth title. With one last year paired with Letarte, will Earnhardt be able to focus on the season at hand with all the distractions and speculations that come with the impending change? And will Kahne make the legitimate championship challenge that so many have expected out of him for years?