Rick Hendrick’s Gamble Continues To Pay Off Big
By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The three team owners with a mathematical chance to see their driver win Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup championship held court with the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday.
There was plenty of reminiscing and discussion about the direction of the sport between Richard Childress, Joe Gibbs and Rick Hendrick.
But the focal point of the discussion centered on five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who owns a 28 point lead in the title standings over Matt Kenseth entering Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.
Hendrick said he took the advice of his late son, Ricky Hendrick, when deciding to bring Johnson into the Hendrick Motorsports family.
“My son told me Jimmie was going to be a superstar, but he didn’t show that in the Nationwide Series” said Rick Hendrick, owner of the No. 48 Chevrolet who first met Johnson when the California native was 16-years-old. “But we liked Jimmie a lot. He was such a classy guy and felt like he was part of the family. And when Jeff (Gordon) raced against him at Michigan, Jeff said he was special and had a lot of talent.
“We took a chance and had no idea. There was no reason and no way to look at him and know he could be that good. We didn’t see what we saw in Jeff Gordon early on.”
A sixth championship for Johnson would put him in rarified air and just one behind the late Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, who each own seven titles.
Petty said he wouldn’t be disappointed if Johnson eventually breaks the championship record he co-owns.
“(Johnson) didn’t compete against me,” said Petty, who retired from driving following the 1992 season. “I did my thing in the seventies and he’s doing his stuff in the teens. So there’s no comparison.
“It’s like taking somebody from the Olympics in the year 1900 and comparing them to somebody in the year 2000. Everything has transferred so much. Everybody is in better shape, the whole deal.
“They’d blow that record away just because of time and records are made to be broken. About every record that has ever been put up there has been broken or will be broken.”
There have been rumblings that the 2015 Sprint Cup Series schedule could include new venues and see many existing race tracks swap dates.
But when asked Friday morning to peer into his crystal ball and venture a guess on potential scheduling changes, NASCAR president Mike Helton took the high road.
“Well, the one thing we can count on is 2014,” Helton said. “We’re concluding 2013, we’ve announced 2014, and constantly think about 2015, 2016 and 2017 all the way out.
“But the decisions around what may or may not happen in 2015 have not been formalized. Certainly it takes a lot of dialogue with racetracks and the industry, the TV partner, as well, particularly in 2015 since FOX is continuing but NBC is coming back, and they’re very interested in what their product looks like. But they’re invested in what they saw and see in 2013 and 2014 is what they invested in. “
Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon, holds an eight point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. in the battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.
That battle will be decided during Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300.
But when asked about plans to move Dillon to the Cup Series next year in the No. 3 made famous by Earnhardt, Childress sidestepped the question.
“We’ll probably announce something here in the next few weeks with what we’ve got planned,” Childress said with a sly smile.
“You sound like a football coach,” Gibbs said with a chuckle. “You don’t answer anything.”
– Jeff Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments