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Everything’s Coming Up Hendrick In NASCAR

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 20 2012

Rick Hendrick took a ride in one of his own cars after it won the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – For Hendrick Motorsports, the week has been phenomenal, as the nearly three-decade old team has won everything in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition except qualifying for the All-Star and Showdown races.

In a seven-day period, five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has recorded Hendrick’s 200th Cup victory at Darlington Raceway and the organization’s seventh All-Star win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Johnson’s third All-Star victory in 11 starts came Saturday night, just two days after his No. 48 team claimed its first pit crew championship. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won Saturday night’s Sprint Showdown and the All-Star race’s fourth segment. Johnson claimed the 90-lap event’s first 20-lap segment.

“This week has been like a fog for me,” said team owner Rick Hendrick, who learned in the media center that his driver in NASCAR’s K&N Series, Chase Elliott, won his first race Saturday at Iowa Speedway. “People start calling you, people that you haven’t heard from in a long time, people that you respect. Richard Childress and I got to spend some time today reminiscing things; Roger Penske tonight before

The winning number. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

the race started.

“I’m very thankful I’m in this position. I owe it all to Max Muhleman, Harry Hyde, those guys that we just stumbled into it. I think then you just start working hard and refuse to lose. It’s just a group of great folks. That’s what it’s all about. Any business that’s done well, it’s just the people.”

Johnson’s All-Star victory celebration resulted in one of the more memorable moments in the race’s history. After Hendrick told his driver to come get him, Johnson convinced the 62-year-old Hendrick to sit in the driver’s window for a celebratory ride down the 1.5-mile speedway’s frontstretch.

“That was the dumbest thing I have ever done in racing,” Hendrick said with a grin and a slight chuckle. “When I climbed in I got my foot hung in the dash, had his knee pinned where he couldn’t get to the clutch. I thought, ‘I’m going to be like a busted watermelon out here.’”

Johnson noted he kept his car in first gear, but he still had to keep it running at 50, 60 mph.

“I had my arm around Rick’s leg, trying to hang onto him,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I could feel the wind pulling on him. He mentioned his foot was in the way. I couldn’t get to the clutch to push the clutch

Jimmie Johnson shares some bubbly with his team in Victory Lane after the All-Star Race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

in to slow down. When you let off the gas in these Cup cars, the way the cam is, it will start loping or jerking real bad. I was afraid if that happened I’d throw him off the side of the car. When we stopped, you couldn’t get your foot off and I had to take the steering wheel off.”

Hendrick said with a laugh, “I’m surprised I didn’t get called to the (NASCAR) hauler.”

“I was afraid somebody was going to throw a beer can at us and hit you in the head,” Johnson replied with a laugh.

“I was surprised they were really nice,” Hendrick came back. “Maybe they were all customers. They were all waving. I didn’t get any fingers. Not one single finger and no beer cans.”

For Johnson and his team it was the end to a perfect night in which their strategy worked flawlessly. Johnson came from the sixth starting position early in the race to win the first 20-lap segment. That allowed crew chief Chad Knaus to concentrate on adjusting the car for the next 60 laps, preparing it for the final 10-lap shootout.

“We made some (adjustments). He didn’t think they helped the car where he needed it,” Knaus said. “We undid those, made some others. He went back out. Felt like it was a little bit better. We adjusted it another time and felt like we were getting pretty close.

“Even though it looked like we were just coasting back there, he was pushing it pretty hard. There were a couple runs when we were quite a bit faster than the leaders.”

At the end of the fourth 20-lap segment, the winners of each segment were allowed to enter pit road first for the mandatory stop. Johnson narrowly beat Matt Kenseth off pit road. When they lined up for the restart, Johnson was leading, Kenseth second, Brad Keselowski third and Earnhardt fourth, all 20-lap segment winners. Kenseth’s sluggish restart left Johnson and Keselowski to battle for the victory. However, Keselowski couldn’t catch the swift Johnson.

“He had a fast car and he did a great job on the restart to do what he needed to do to get away,” Keselowski said. “I tried to run him down and I thought I might have been just a touch faster than him those first two or three laps, but after that his car really took off. I just didn’t have anything for him.”

Johnson’s third All-Star victory tied him with Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon for the most NASCAR Sprint All-Star wins. The California native’s other two victories came in 2003 and 2006.

– Deb Wiliiams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 20 2012
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