Jimmie, Hendrick Reach Deal
Homestead, Fla. – Somebody’s going to have to figure out how to beat Jimmie Johnson because he isn’t going anywhere for a long time.
Team owner Rick Hendrick, sitting alongside the driver on the cusp of winning his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in a row and giving the team its record-tying ninth Cup title, announced Friday that Johnson’s contract has been extended five years, through 2015.
Hendrick also said Lowe’s, the sponsor of the No. 48 Chevrolet, has re-upped through 2013.
“The only car I’ve driven in the Cup series has been a Chevy,’’ said Johnson, who has never finished worse than fifth in his eight-year Cup career. “It’s been a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and a Lowe’s Chevrolet. I’m very, very proud of that stuff. (I) certainly look forward to the future, what the years may bring.’’
And continuity is very important to the boss, too.
“Our goal is to keep this thing together for the foreseeable future. … We’re doing everything we can to keep things nice and tight in our organization for years to come,’’ Hendrick said.
Things look pretty darn stable for all of Hendrick Motorsports.
Current series runner-up Mark Martin is signed for the next two years, third-place Jeff Gordon has a lifetime contract with Hendrick – “He’s going to be part of this team as long as he is driving’’ – and Dale Earnhardt Jr., hoping to begin emulating the on-track success of his teammates after two years of struggle, has three more years on his contract.
While some critics say the Hendrick team, rich with sponsors and resources, is successful only because it spends more money, the real key to the team’s long term success is keeping its key people – and not just the drivers.
Chad Knaus has been Johnson’s crew chief since 2002, his rookie year, and is likely to remain in the same role for at least a few more years.
“You know, Chad has a multi-year deal,’’ Hendrick said. “Chad and I have talked about retiring together. So we’re in the process of getting that all papered.’’
The team Knaus put together to work on the No. 48 has generally remained together. Former Cup champion Dale Jarrett, now an analyst for ABC/ESPN, said that’s a major factor in Johnson’s success.
“They’ve found a group of people that obviously enjoy winning,’’ Jarrett said. “They’ve all been offered opportunities to go other places and it’s great to see that they haven’t let dollars and things get in their way.
“The cars chiefs have stayed there when they’ve been offered jobs as crew chiefs in other places and it’s just amazing that they’ve kept that group of people there. I think that says a lot about Jimmie Johnson as a person that those people stay there and work for him.’’
Martin, who goes into Sunday’s season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway 108 points behind Johnson and seemingly relegated to his fifth runner-up finish, gives a lot of the credit for Johnson’s postseason success to his crew.
“It’s more in the hands of the mechanical side then it is in Jimmie’s hands,’’ Martin said, when asked about Johnson’s seeming to find another gear when the 10-race Chase begins. “The teams spends the year working on making the cars faster and the easiest way to win the races is to have the fastest race car.’’
Greg Biffle, whose five-car Roush Fenway Racing team has struggled to keep up with Johnson and the rest of the Hendrick cars, said Johnson’s continuing success is inspiring and intimidating.
“The 48 team has been really amazing,’’ Biffle said Friday. “We’re all just trying to find a way to compete on their level.’’
Johnson needs only to finish 25th or better in the Ford 500 to add that unprecedented fourth title.
Whatever the reason for his success, Johnson is going to have plenty more opportunities to display his prowess in the No. 48 – at least six more seasons.
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment