News & Media

Hendrick drivers enjoying momentum swing

June 01, 2012, Viv Bernstein, Special to NASCAR.COM,

DOVER, Del. -- After early drought, team has won three in a row and looks to add another

There's no truth to the rumor that Hendrick Motorsports drivers are drawing straws to decide who will win Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.

"I wish it was that easy,'' Jimmie Johnson said with a chuckle Friday.

Maybe it only seems that way.

After all, Hendrick drivers have won the past three races. Johnson captured the Southern 500 on May 12 at Darlington and followed it with a victory in the All-Star race at Charlotte a week later. Kasey Kahne then outraced the pack to win the Coca-Cola 600 last Sunday.

HMS drivers in 2012

Through 12 races
Johnson 1585

Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has run in the top-10 seven of the past eight races and a series-best nine this season. And even Jeff Gordon, who has had more bad luck and bad breaks than perhaps any driver this season, is coming off a solid seventh-place run in the 600.

As dominant as Hendrick has been lately, who would bet against the team winning a fourth race in a row?

"Yeah, I think you come here and you know that you're definitely capable,'' Kahne said of the mindset approaching Dover. "But I've actually felt like that all season long. I've felt like I had really fast cars from the drop of the greens at Daytona and Phoenix and all the tracks. So I think just the way the team put together solid finishes the last three weeks has been good and that gives you some extra confidence and momentum, too."

Funny how momentum can change so quickly. It wasn't long ago that Hendrick drivers seemed snake-bitten. The four-car juggernaut went without a victory for 10 races to start the season, an absence that was more glaring because team owner Rick Hendrick was stuck at 199 victories.

It took a while for No. 200, which Johnson secured at Darlington. They needed just one race to reach 201.

"It was just Darlington that you guys were asking me if we felt bad for them and were concerned that they hadn't won in however long it was,'' Matt Kenseth said. "Those guys have a really strong team over there and really great drivers, crew chiefs, equipment and all that stuff. Every time you go to the race track, you feel like if you are going to have a shot to win in the race, you feel like you have to beat one or all of the Hendrick cars. I don't feel like that has ever changed."

But it might be ever harder to top them now. Along with momentum, they take a hefty dose of confidence to Dover.

"We have been up here telling all of you that we have fast race cars,'' Johnson said. "I think we have shown it. It's been tough to really execute like we've wanted to and especially for a few of my teammates. To have that all kind of coming around and all four cars running where they should there is a great feeling in that.

"I think we all come here to Dover with our own confidence for our own reasons."

And their individual motivations. Kahne is 15th in the standings and needs another victory or a surge in points to make the Chase. Gordon's position is more precarious. He is 22nd and needs to win at least twice to have a shot at making the playoff.

"It seems like all of us got off to a slow start, obviously some of us slower than others,'' Gordon said. "We have had some moments where we were really strong but we're just not putting races together. And then the last few weeks, just seeing Jimmie getting the win at Darlington and then Kasey last week. You know, our car was really strong last week as well, so yeah, I hope there's more of that to come."

As for Earnhardt, he is solidly in the top 10 in points at No. 4 and has been the most consistent Cup driver this season. But he still hasn't won since 2008, a span of 141 races.

Seeing Johnson and Kahne win only adds to his motivation.

Could Earnhardt deliver No. 202?

"I'm not competitive on the race track with my teammates,'' Earnhardt said. "But when you see those guys win, you do wish it was you going to Victory Lane. You are happy for them, but at the same time you're a driver with a team that feels like they deserve to win, and they're ready to win and we've been waiting to win for so long.

"It's a good thing. I think it motivates you to work harder, and try to find Victory Lane that much harder, if at all possible. It doesn't have really a negative effect on me or the team when those guys go out and win. But you do wish it was you. You wish you were the guy going to Victory Lane."