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Harris: They Talk A Good Race Over At Hendrick Motorsports

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 29 2009
Communication breakdowns are few in number for those who, like Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, race for Rick Hendrick.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Communication breakdowns are few in number for those who, like Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, race for Rick Hendrick. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

There are those who automatically believe that drivers who work for Hendrick Motorsports have a built-in advantage.

No question the Hendrick entries have the best of everything – great cars, powerful engines, top-notch engineering, the best personnel available.

But that’s not the only reason that Jeff Gordon is a four-time champion, Jimmie Johnson is vying for a fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship and 50-year-old Mark Martin has found new life driving a Hendrick Chevrolet.

The not-so-secret key ingredient is communication.

“Before I came to Hendrick, I would never have believed the kind of information the crew chiefs on this team share,’’ explained Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief.

Johnson’s No. 48 and Gordon’s No. 24 share one shop, while Martin’s No. 5 and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 are housed in another close by. But it really doesn’t matter where those cars and their crewmen are, everything is wide open to everyone.

“It’s a little strange at times,’’ Johnson said. “You find something that gives you an edge out there on track and the next meeting you have all four crew chiefs sitting there looking at the open notebooks. It’s different, but it obviously works pretty well for everyone.’’

Not only do the crew chiefs get along, but the drivers all seem like one big happy family.

“I only had one teammate in my entire career, other than my son, that I could trust,’’ said longtime racing star Mario Andretti. “You said you were sharing with them, but you really didn’t.  You wanted to keep that edge, whatever it was.’’

Three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip had a similar view.

“I had some great teammates, but you just didn’t share information the way they do today,’’ Waltrip said. “We were in one shop and they were in another and there was a line down the middle.’’

The big difference at Hendrick is the boss, Rick Hendrick. Here’s a guy who truly believes that you have to work together,

“You win as a team. You lose as a team. You live as team,’’  Hendrick likes to say.

Martin said the communication was pretty good on his previous teams, but nothing like what goes on at Hendrick Motorsports.

“It didn’t take me very long to see the difference after I got here,’’ Martin said. “It comes down from the top. Rick believes that you win by having everybody working together and sharing everything. Obviously, it’s working pretty good.’’

Heading to Kansas for the third of 10 races in the 2009 Chase for the championship, Martin leads Johnson by 10 points at the top of the standings, while Gordon is eighth, 122 points behind the leader.

Moving to Hendrick has not made a huge difference for the popular Earnhardt in his results. He failed to make the 12-man Chase field and hasn’t managed a win this year. But you’d never know it talking to him.

“I love what goes on at this team,’’ Earnhardt said. “When you don’t have a lot of success, everybody wants to help, to get you going in the right direction. Rick doesn’t put any pressure on you. Nobody does. You just feel like it’s a matter of time.’’

In a TV feature before last Sunday’s race at Dover, Hendrick was asked how he would feel if the three team drivers in the Chase finished 1-2-3.

The boss grinned widely and said, “I don’t know. There’s a long way to go. But that would be nice, wouldn’t it.’’

That would be a NASCAR first and, with a continuing communication, a little luck and lots of talent, it could happen.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 29 2009