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Dominant Hendrick reverses roles with Childress

November 15, 2013, Holly Cain,

With Johnson, Hendrick mirrors Earnhardt-Childress production

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- As Rick Hendrick attempted to take his seat on stage at Homestead-Miami Speedway's media center Friday afternoon, he noticed his chair was wobbly, so he paused and repaired a chair leg before sitting down between fellow team owners Joe Gibbs and Richard Childress.

"Nothing else he's got ever breaks," joked Gibbs. "Richard, I don’t know what the deal is."

And so it went Friday afternoon as the three men sat alongside one another to talk championships -- smiling, shoulder-slapping and sharing stories.

The three have 19 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crowns behind them and certain Hall of Fame honors ahead.

And as they go into Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 season finale, they are revved up and reverent.

Gibbs' newest driver, Matt Kenseth, and Childress' outgoing driver, Kevin Harvick, trail Hendrick's Jimmie Johnson by 28 and 34 points, respectively, as Johnson attempts to hoist his sixth Cup trophy in the last eight years. Johnson only needs to finish 23rd or better Sunday to secure the title.

And for all the competitive spirit Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl-winning NFL head coach, and Childress bring to the weekend, they agreed that losing a title to Johnson would mean getting beaten by one of the sport's all-time greats.

"Jimmie is a role model for our sport that is unbelievable," said Childress, who fielded the car for six of the late Dale Earnhardt's seven Cup championship seasons.

"Both of my grandsons (drivers Austin and Ty Dillon), that's who they want to be like. That's who they talk to. There's a lot of other drivers, but if you want to be a Cup driver today, that's the model you want."

Then, Childress and Hendrick joked about Hendrick hiring the two young Dillon drivers away from their grandfather's team.

For all their light-hearted interaction, it's almost easy to forget the trio's significant contributions to the sport. They have great respect for one another and truly enjoy competing against each other.

Each of these team owners has unique motivations, expectations and ultimately a different criteria to judge the real success of their season. And when they provide perspective, as they did Friday, people listen.

"It's a thrill for us to have a chance to be in a sport like this, it's the best people in the world at what they do: racing cars," Gibbs said. "I don't think anybody in the sport, certainly not us, would have guessed that Matt could have a year like that (a series-best seven wins in his first season with Gibbs).

"I think he gave it everything he had every single week as our team did. It just so happens that his year, at least for these nine (Chase) races, you can't have a bad race. We had a bad race last week and it put us in a tough situation."

If the success of Kenseth's debut season with Gibbs' was unforeseen, Harvick's last year with Childress ended up being almost counterintuitive. Childress and Harvick had an often turbulent, more often triumphant tenure. But Harvick, who is leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, said this week it was only the outsiders that expected "lame duck" performance from him.

"In February, there was only a couple of you guys standing around that wanted to interview us at the Media Day," Harvick said Thursday. "I did tell those two people that this has a very good possibility of being the best year that I've ever had at RCR just for the fact there's really no pressure for me. The guys want to win races.

"Everybody wants to go out on a high. You have the best possible platform for RCR to sell (its) team moving forward, to hire employees moving forward, to build a foundation for whoever's going to drive that car next year, to have a solid team.

"I knew that the cars were probably going to be as good as they've ever been, just because it was important to the company to have it like that."

Childress was in Hendrick's shoes two decades ago, as the late Hall of Famer Earnhardt was dominating championship runs. The last time he got to celebrate a Cup title was with Earnhardt in 1994.

"You had to beat a lot of good cars to win a championship (back then)," Childress said. "Like I said earlier, Rick, hats off to those guys. They've done one heck of a job. Chad (Knaus), Jimmie, all the guys, they've set the bar up high. It eats at you when you don't win a championship. But you now you're giving it your best and your best isn't good enough."

For Hendrick, even the comparisons to greats of other sports make him uncomfortable. Asked about parallels with New York Yankees baseball dynasty, he joked, "I'm not a big Yankee fan, but I shouldn't say that though because Reggie Jackson is one of my best friends."

"But, I think we work really hard, just like these other teams work hard. The chemistry between Chad and Jimmie has been unbelievable. … If you look at Jimmie's dedication to perfection and Chad is the same way, plus the chemistry they have, it takes a lot of racing luck, but it takes a lot of preparation and talent. I don't think Jimmie's gotten the real credit he deserves for the talent that he has and for the dedication that he has given to the sport.

"When you have talent and you have execution, right, Coach?" Hendrick said, looking over at Gibbs. "I’m with coach. I've never seen this thing that his team did with Matt (Kenseth), a great guy and an unbelievable year. And I give Richard a lot of credit. He and Kevin are going to separate but they came in here and put it together and raced to the end.

"This is a tough sport, but I think every now and then you get a combination of people that really click. If you give them the tools and they don't leave anything on the table, then they're going to be there every year."


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