News & Media

Happy Hour: Hendrick drivers running well, not running mouths

June 08, 2012, Viv Bernstein, Special to NASCAR.COM,

LONG POND, Pa. -- Despite four consecutive victories, overconfidence isn't an issue for the team

Overconfidence has not overcome Hendrick Motorsports going into Sunday's Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR. Not outwardly, at least.

Pocono 400

Practice 1
2.Jamie McMurray178.937
3.Dale Earnhardt Jr.178.809
4.Jimmie Johnson178.678
5.AJ Allmendinger178.204
2.Carl Edwards179.361
3.Jeff Gordon179.108
4.Paul Menard178.798
5.Kyle Busch178.540

Although Hendrick drivers are going for their fourth win in a row -- fifth if you include the non-points All-Star Race -- they are facing a repaved Pocono Raceway that has left everyone battling to find an edge.

"I think you could have looked at the testing yesterday and seen that there are a lot of guys with good speed," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said before the first practice on Friday. "I didn't think that Hendrick cars dominated the sheet yesterday or dominated the test up through this point. We were all really competitive but there are a lot of players in there, a lot of competition in there that could be anybody's race."

Still, Hendrick drivers were featured prominently at the top of the charts during the two days of testing at Pocono before Friday. All four were in the top 15 in the opening practice on Friday, when many teams were in qualifying trim. And Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne were among the top 10 in Happy Hour as well.

Joey Logano topped all drivers in Happy Hour at 179.501 mph, with Carl Edwards second (179.361), Gordon third (179.108), Paul Menard fourth (178.798) and Kyle Busch fifth (178.540). Among Hendrick drivers, Kahne was sixth (178.455) with Jimmie Johnson 21st (176.256) after being fourth in the first practice and Earnhardt 23rd (176.177) after posting the third fastest time in the opening practice. Interestingly, Johnson and Kahne were 1-2 for the fastest 10 consecutive laps in Happy Hour.

Even with other teams showing speed here, they're facing a juggernaut that hasn't finished out of Victory Lane since the Aarons 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 6. Johnson began the run by winning the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 12, giving team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th victory and ending a shockingly long 16-race winless streak for Hendrick going back to last season.

Johnson followed with a victory in the All-Star Race and Kahne took the checkered flag in the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27.

"I think we've really gotten our act together."


Johnson was back in Victory Lane again at Dover last Sunday. Earnhardt tops all of them in the standings; he is third, with Johnson fifth and Kahne 14th.

"I think we've really gotten our act together,'' said Gordon, who finds himself 21st despite having competitive race cars as bad luck and miscues have cost him strong finishes. "We didn't start the season on top of our games, but in great fashion for Hendrick Motorsports everybody has been working really hard since the start of the season to try to find a little bit more speed and grip in the cars.

"Over the last month, month and a half we have done that. It is showing with all the cars. You just hope that you can maintain that or continue to improve on that as the season goes on to stay ahead of the competition."

The last time Hendrick took three races in a row was 2009, when Johnson won at Martinsville, Jeff Gordon at Texas and Mark Martin followed at Phoenix in the spring. They have a long way to go match the best streak in Hendrick history. In 2007, they won six races in a row in the Chase, including two by Gordon and four by Johnson on the way to the second of his five championships.

The way Hendrick is running these days, it would be hard to bet against them challenging that streak again.

"When they get on a roll, they've proved they can ride that wave for a while,'' driver Clint Bowyer said. "I think they've certainly found something here and found some speed in the race cars. Last week I was running fifth and four of them were in front of me at one point -- that's not a very good feeling. Just obviously forced everybody, just like they did a few years ago, to work harder to catch up."