Hendrick teams set pace in Car of Tomorrow
Hendrick teams set pace in Car of Tomorrow
Gordon, Johnson, Busch combine to claim all five races with new design
By MIKE FINNEY
May 30, 2007
If the first five races contested with NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow in the Nextel Cup Series are any indication, a Hendrick Motorsports driver will be celebrating in victory lane at the end of Sunday's Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Kyle Busch won the first race with the Car of Tomorrow (COT) at Bristol on March 25, and Jimmie Johnson (Martinsville, Richmond) and Jeff Gordon (Phoenix, Darlington) have combined to capture the other four, all of them driving Rick Hendrick-owned Chevrolets.
"The stats show we've really been on top of it, that we've really done our part," Johnson said. "I think there's room to improve, to make the cars better with more time, working with them more and more."
They will get their chance this weekend, as Dover will be the sixth of 16 races this season that will feature the Car of Tomorrow, with its rear wing and adjustable front splitter. The new car is designed to be safer, more competitive and cost-efficient.
So far, Hendrick Motorsports appears to be a couple of laps ahead of the competition. In addition, with a mid-May testing session at Dover canceled due to a rain-postponed race at Darlington, the Hendrick teams should still carry their advantage into the Monster Mile.
"They say that Hendrick's [drivers] have almost 100 days of testing in the COT car," said Greg Biffle, who drives for owner Jack Roush. "I don't know if that's true or not. I do know that they have done a tremendous amount of testing and spent a lot of time working with that car.
"We've spent nine days testing."
So far, Hendrick's focus on the COT has paid off.
It reminds Kyle Petty of the days when the race team of his father, Richard Petty, was a contender to win every race.
"There is nothing wrong with domination," Petty said. "I think the sport has been built on domination. You go back to Petty Enterprises with Richard and then to Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon.
"There is nothing wrong with that. You have to have something to shoot at. It just happens, in the past, you shot at single-car teams. Today, you are shooting at multicar teams."
While Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have displayed flashes of brilliance in the new car for Joe Gibbs Racing, it is the Hendrick drivers who have taken all of the trophies home.
Gordon initially was an outspoken critic of the new car, calling it the ugliest thing he has ever driven. But he has parlayed his disdain into one of the best starts in Cup history.
"I think the Car of Tomorrow fits my driving style a little bit more than even the [traditional] car, but we've done our homework, as well," Gordon said. "I'm not saying nobody else is doing their homework, but sometimes you go in a direction, and if that direction pans out, then you're going to have success."
Johnson believes that Hendrick's domination this season simply is a product of a superior organization.
"I think that you're seeing the top teams rise to the occasion," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter if it's the current car or the new one. The race teams are about people.
"All the big teams have equal dollars, the manufacturers have the box that they are put in, the cars are all very similar, and it boils down to the people.
"I think the teams you see succeeding right now in the new car are the same ones you see succeeding with the regular car."
While the Hendrick drivers have earned all of the hardware with the COT, Hamlin and Stewart also have sparkled. They just haven't been able to finish it off.
"I feel like everywhere we've been, we've had opportunities to win," Stewart said. "I've either made mistakes or just circumstances have kept us from being able to close it out.
"If you think about it, if we would have hit half of the ones that we should have won, that would have been a start to the season we've never seen in eight years."
Jeff Burton believes this might just turn out to be the Year of Hendrick.
"It could go on," Burton said. "We saw [Matt Kenseth] dominate a whole year. We've seen [Gordon] dominate a year. We've seen that before.
"There's no question that every team in this garage is aiming to be better. ... Without a doubt, it's possible that Hendrick could continue it. We certainly are going to do our best to make sure they don't."