Its only 4 weeks into the season, but Rick Hendrick and his team are already desperately looking for answers.
Few things have gone right for what many consider the top organization in the sport, and easily the flagship team for Chevrolet.
During this off season Rick Hendrick went on record about his confidence for 2012, saying: “I usually hedge a little bit, but this year I’m not,” Hendrick said. “I think I’m going to be real disappointed if we don’t have all four cars in the Chase, and I’m going to be real disappointed if we don’t win the championship.”
Things aren’t looking too good.
Hendrick Motorsports fields four full time drivers. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson carry most of the success, with a combined 9 championships and 140 wins. The other two drivers are Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sports most popular, and newcomer Kasey Kahne, another fan favorite. Jr. seems to be truing things around in 2012, following up steady improvement in 2011. However Kahne looks like he might be following in the shoes of Jr.’s switch to Hendrick, and its not pretty.
The bad luck began right out of the gate at Daytona, as Johnson was alleged to have illegal C-Pillars on his vehicle. Add to that multiple destroyed race cars (Jeff Gordon – Bud Shootout; Kasey Kahne – Bud Shootout, Daytona Practice, Daytona 500; Jimmie Johnson – Daytona 500) and a blown motor (Jeff Gordon – Daytona 500), it seemed like things couldn’t get worse. The one bright spot during speedweeks for the organization was Jr.’s runner up finish.
Phoenix was a boost to Johnson and Gordon. Johnson rebounded from his 42nd place Daytona run with a 4th place finish, Gordon came home in 8th. Jr. had another solid run and finished 14th. Kahne, however, made contact with the wall and had another terrible finish, being credited with a 34th place finish.
When the series made its way to Vegas, all four drivers had something to prove. Kahne went out and won the pole and looked strong to rebound from the first two events. Jr. Wanted to show that his team has improved and belonged at the top of the points. Johnson was still fighting off his penalty and wanting to win as a statement. Gordon was looking to have a strong run to climb in points.
How successful they each were varied. Kahne wrecked again and finished 19th, Johnson finished runner up, Jr. had a strong top 10, Gordon finished 12th with help of strategy.
Bristol wasn’t too helpful for the Hendrick clan either. Taking out Kahne at lap 24, and Gordon (via teammate Jr.) later in the race. Gordon, who had a strong run all of the afternoon was frustrated by the incident, but accepted that it was just a racing incident, and nothing intentional. Jr. cost himself a top 10 finish with a speeding penalty under caution shortly after. While he was quiet all day, Johnson managed to secure a top 10 finish.
Today NASCAR announced that all penalties, fines and suspensions against Johnson were to be rescinded, the first real good news for HMS this season.
Its been a backwards year so far, with the unexpected Dale Earnhardt Jr. leading the Hendrick stable. Johnson’s rescinded penalty moves him up to 11th in points and he seems to be recovering nicely from his lap 2 crash at Daytona.
However, Gordon and Kahne are facing major trouble. Gordon’s two strong runs were ended by mechanical and incidental problems. Their luck needs to turn around to have a chance at making up the 13 spots to the top 10, or collect some wins for a wild card.
Kahne is in the worst position. The only consistency he has shown is the ability to wreck a strong car every weekend. Currently sitting 32nd in points, there is a strong possibility he won’t be in the top 35 after Fontana and therefore not guaranteed a starting spot. That’s a long way from championship contender.
HMS has plenty of resources and talent to trun things around. Unfortunately for them they have dug quite a large hole for themselves and have a lot of talented drivers to pass if they want to back up big Rick’s claims.