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Pedley: You’ve Got To Have Heart And Hendrick Has It

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 17 2009
Crew chief Alan Gustafson and boss Rick Hendrick have hooked up with a top driver and a nonpareil leader in Mark Martin. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Crew chief Alan Gustafson and boss Rick Hendrick have hooked up with a top driver and a nonpareil leader in Mark Martin. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Hendrick Motorsports has always had this wonderful assortment of human parts and pieces.

It’s had the type of faces which keep People Magazine in business. It’s had the pit-box geniuses who have propelled crew chiefing – and even tire-changing – to a spectator sport. It’s had the owner for whom every driver in the sport wants to drive, to whom every sponsor wants to give money and with whom every fan wishes he was their mother were married.

It has all added up to major, major NASCAR success. So much success that the Hendrick Motorsports museum and gift shop looks like Trophy World at the mall.

Yep, for the past 15 years, the impression has been that Hendrick Motorsports has it all.

But now, quite obviously, it has more.

HMS now has a heart and soul that, if not missing in the past, may have been tough to pinpoint.

It now has Mark Martin.

It’s been dang interesting listening to the voices coming out of the Hendrick camp this year. Good interesting, too.

It gives you a sense of just what a quiet, unassuming, 50-year-old blue-collar hod-carrier of a worker has brought to the HMS table.

Of course, virtually none of it comes out of Martin’s mouth. He just smiles and thanks everybody from the boss to his crew to his teammates to his luck to his wife to the four winds.

Rick Hendrick, on the other hand, has been effusive in detailing Martin’s contribution to the team. And Hendrick loves to finger the non-driving contributions.

Following Martin’s victory at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, Mr. H was at it again.

When asked if Martin has brought more than simple, native driving ability to his team, Hendrick launched.

“Absolutely,” the guy who also employs Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., said. “There’s a word in the sport; respect.  Alan (Gustafson, Martin’s young, modern and hip crew chief) will tell you this.  I’ve worked with a lot of drivers and been around a lot of drivers.  He’s probably as good as I’ve ever seen on a chassis, reading the chassis, knowing what he wants, and then knowing how to run the race.  He’s very, very focused.  He’s like a computer.

“When he sits down with those other drivers, he starts explaining his car, they listen.  I mean, that was what Jeff Gordon told me before we ever got him to come over.  He said, He’ll help us all.  You know, Jimmie said that.  After about two or three races, Junior said, You need to get him to run a couple more years.”

But wait, there’s more. And, more is not just a second Sham-Wow and an Awesome Auger for free.

“It’s everything from the way you read the car, from the physical conditioning, the shape he’s in and the regimen he has,” Hendrick said. “I mean, he adds so much to the entire organization.  You know, it’s so many different areas, and you see it.  There was not a car in Darlington that didn’t have a Darlington stripe on it.  His car didn’t have a mark on it, not a mark.  To be able to run that race and run that hard.  The first race Alan and I had him with him was in the Busch car.  I had him when he didn’t have a crew chief, crew chief got suspended, he called the race from the car in the Busch Series.  I’ve been in awe of him ever since the first race. I mean, if you list all the different categories that you want to list for a driver, he’s at the top on every one of them. It radiates through the organization.”

It even radiated into the biggest team shake-up of the season.

A couple of weeks ago, Hendrick broke up the driver-crew chief combo of Earnhardt Jr.-Tony Eury Jr.

They were just not clicking. When asked about the click factor between the two, Hendrick must have used the word “pressure” a dozen times: Earnhardt and Eury, he said, had so much pressure on them that success was being flattened by it.

I asked Hendrick if he thought that Martin’s coming to the team this year might have amped up that pressure. Especially with the way the new old guy was driving heading into the summer.

Probably, Hendrick said.

“I think Mark has put a little pressure on all our guys. He’s been a big contributor because he’s got so much knowledge of the car, and he sets a tremendous example for the drivers from a standpoint of taking care of the crews, knowing how to adjust the car, what’s important and how to run a race.

“Anytime you’ve got three cars that are running good and you’re not there, it’s a lot of pressure. And a year ago about this time, Junior was our best car, and Alan was feeling the pressure because he and Casey (Mears) weren’t performing, and it was working on him a ton. When you’re in a four-car team and you’re the bottom car, it’s a lot of pressure. His performance has added a little pressure, but I’d say what he’s brought to the table has more than just made up for the pressure.”

And what Martin has clearly brought to the table is heart and soul.




| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 17 2009