Harris: Success Is In The Details
One big reason for the long-term success of Hendrick Motorsports is the attention that team owner Rick Hendrick pays to detail.
He’s got more than 500 people working for his elite team, and many of them are among the best at what they do. That’s how his team has matched Petty Enterprises with nine championships in NASCAR’s elite Cup series.
And most of the time, Hendrick lets those people do what they’ve been hired to do. But Mr. H, as most of his team calls him, is hands on when he needs to be.
Coming off a season in which Jimmie Johnson won an unprecedented fourth straight title and Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon helped give Hendrick an equally unprecedented 1-2-3 finish in the points, Hendrick wasted no time in getting the preparations for 2010 in high gear.
Speaking with RacinToday.com before the awards dinner in Las Vegas, Hendrick said he has met with all the key people on his team since the end of the season at Homestead.
“The thing that fires me up now is when I listen to Jimmie and (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) or Mark and Jeff and Dale (Earnhardt Jr.),’’ the boss said. “We’ve all met and everybody’s all fired up to be better next year. And all these other (teams in NASCAR) feel the same way.
“We have to see what unfolds as the year goes on, but I can tell you Jimmie is just as hungry as he was for the first one, and Chad is too. This past week I’ve been talking to the guys about what they can do better, and I think they kind of motivate each other, knowing it’s going to a tough run next year. There were so many teams running well at the end of the year – the Childress cars, the Penske cars, the Gibbs cars – you know it’s going to be a dogfight.’’
Hendrick noted that adding 50-year-old Mark Martin to the team at the start of 2009 was a key to continuing the success.
Martin took over the No. 5 car, an entry that has limited success in recent seasons, and won five races and finished as the runner-up in the Chase for the championship.
“I said this way back, after being around Mark in the Nationwide car ( in 2008), that he would make our organization better, and he has,’’ Hendrick noted. “It’s amazing the talent he’s got, the dedication he’s got. He has made us all step up and he’s added a tremendous amount of insight into what the car is doing: this car, how you can drive it.
“He works with the other drivers and the crew chiefs. He’s elevated our whole program. And it’s amazing to me that you can come in here with an new crew chief (Alan Gustafson) and be 35th in the points after the first three or four races and then have a run for the championship, go into the Chase leading the points and finish second. That’s pretty phenomenal for anybody and I think it’s just a credit to Alan and Mark. They’re going to tough next year. They’re good.’’
The big question for the Hendrick team is how to get fan favorite Earnhardt up to speed after yet another mediocre year. Driving basically the same equipment as his teammates, and with the same resources available, Junior failed to win a race and missed the 12-man Chase for the second time in three years, finishing a disappointing 25th in the points.
Hendrick chalked up a lot of Earnhardt’s failures to just plain bad luck.
“It drives me nuts because we have one transmission fail and it’s his, we have one valve spring (break) in the last 10 races and it’s his,’’ Hendrick explained. “It was like that all season. I think Junior was ready for the year to end because we just felt like whatever happens, even if he runs good, something’s going to happen. But, mentally, he’s 100 percent committed and he feels good.
Hendrick said that Earnhardt, who is 35, is also working hard on his physical conditioning.
“You get disappointed, but when there’s things that are changing, you’ve got a new year and you get to wipe the slate clean. He and I talk a lot and we talked before I came out here. He’s pumped up about next year and he’s got that spring in his step. But, I feel good about what we’re doing and I feel like we’re going to have a good year next year.’’
Among the changes being made is moving Chris “Sunshine’’ Heroy, the lead engineer from Martin’s No. 5 to the No. 88.
“We’re not just going back like we were,’’ Hendrick said. “We have actually merged more so than ever the 5 car and the 88 together. They’re shifting guys from team to team. Alan Gustafson is responsible for that car, just like (Earnhardt’s crew chief) Lance (McGrew) is.’’
“We need a good start at Daytona,’’ Hendrick said. “We need to feel mentally feel good about where we are. …That’s my focus for next year. I’m committed to that 88 car. The other guys are running well and they know the things they’re going to be doing. But I’ve met with Lance and Alan and Junior and you’re going to see a big difference in that team.’’
Hendrick, who knows that all streaks must eventually end, is also hoping that Johnson and his No. 48 can stay on their amazing roll.
“Realistically, how hard is it to run through a year without having more failures, more mechanical stuff, cutting more tires?’’ Hendrick added. “I mean, that’s what so phenomenal to me about Jimmie’s run. You can be really good, but racing luck plays a lot into that. You’ve got to overcome that, you’ve got the Chase. Do you stump your toe somewhere along the line? Mark proved you can stump your toe, have those failures, and come back.
“I think we feed off of each other. We know we’ve got to be better, looking at the teams around us and how they were running at the end of the year. Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and the Childress cars. I don’t think we went to sleep, they just caught up.
“We know we’ve got to go to work,’’ he continued. “All you can do is this sport is identify where you’re weak and work on it. And, if everybody continues to work together and we keep everybody focused in the same direction, I think we’ll be competitive, and that’s about all I can hope for.’’
How about a 1-2-3-4 finish next year?
Hendrick laughed, saying, “Wow, that’s way out there. I’m just hoping we don’t lose too much ground.’’
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment