NASCAR Notes: Sprint Cup Class Of 2013: Hendrick Motorsports
BY DAVE GRAYSON
One has to believe that Rick Hendrick is extremely optimistic regarding the 2013 racing season. Hendrick Motorsports, (HMS), will once again be fielding a four car operation with all four teams already regarded as championship contenders. One team is seeking a “six pack” title, another team is seeking to close the deal on ”the drive for five” while two teams are seeking their first ever championship.
#88. DALE EARNHARDT JR.
NASCAR’s most popular driver returns with crew chief Steve Letarte, one of the best in the business, and there’s already excitement generating among the members of the “Junior Nation.” Both the driver and the crew chief seems to be excited over the potential of NASCAR’s new Generation-Six race car. The general feeling is the new car will better suit Earnhardt’s style of driving.
Last year the #88 team made the Chase For The Championship line up, finishing 12th in the final standings. The team also scored one win that eradicated Earnhardt’s incredibly long win less streak. Last year’s stats also included ten top five finishes, 20 top tens and a healthy 11 average finish ratio.
From the outside looking in, there’s appears to be a gray area regarding the team’s sponsorship profile. The National Guard returns as the primary sponsor for 20 regular races plus the All Star Race. The gray area involves Diet Mountain Dew/Amp Energy Drink who cut their sponsored races to only five this year. That leaves the team with 13 open races without sponsors.
As hard as that is to imagine, no one at HMS, including Mr. Hendrick himself, seems to be that worried about the situation. Hendrick pointed out that they have until late summer to resolve the issue and he’s already getting telephone calls from corporations very interested in the #88 program. However, it appears that these are minor sponsor buys, one race here, four races there, but the inquiries are more than enough to fill up the sponsor vacancy. Hendrick said he’s going to, at least for awhile, hold out for a program that will be long term, as in three year contracts. Again, this sponsor situation is now where near the drama everyone first thought it was.
Earnhardt did, however, receive a rather interesting offer to turn the hood of his race car into an elaborate, and free, public service announcement from PETA: People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals. According to a letter sent to Earnhardt, from Michelle Cho a PETA Associate Director, the driver asked him to consider advertising the importance of their spay and neuter program. So far, no one from HMS has commented on this offer.
#24 JEFF GORDON
The four time champion, who is third on the all time win list with 87 trips to victory lane, seems to have a certain aura around him that suggests this might be the year he completes the “drive for five” project and scores that fifth NASCAR championship. The fact that crew chief Alan Gustafson is returning to oversee the operation is a major plus. In 2012, the driver and crew chief combined to finish tenth in the points while collecting a pair of wins, 11 top five finishes, 18 top tens and compiled an average finish ratio of 14.
Back in early January, following NASCAR hosted pre season practice sessions, Gordon was one of the first Sprint Cup drivers to heap praise on the series’ new Generation-Six race car. “I’m a big fan, I love it,” he said adding “I like the body style and I think the teams and crew chiefs feel the same thing.”
The 2013 sponsor program for the #24 team is rock solid and features the return of the AARP Drive To End Hunger campaign who will be the primary sponsor for 22 races. The significant change here is the fact that we will no longer see the name Dupont on the hood of Gordon’s car which has been a part of the driver’s dynasty for approximately two decades now. In recent months Dupont sold their paint division to the Carlyle Group who has re branded the products under the name of Axalta Coating Systems. The company’s co-brand products: Standox, Spies Heckler, Imron and CromaxPro will be on the hood of the #24 for the first quarter of the season while Axalta will be on the car in the second quarter of the year. Additionally, Pepsi will be the primary sponsor for two races.
In addition to seeking his fifth NASCAR championship this year, there is one date on the Sprint Cup schedule that will seriously have Jeff Gordon’s attention. That date is June 29th, when the Cup Series will be racing at the Kentucky Speedway. Of all the tracks, on the modern day NASCAR schedule, this is the only venue that Gordon hasn’t won at.
#48 JIMMIE JOHNSON.
What can you say here that hasn’t already been announced? Five time NASCAR Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are ready, willing and able to win their sixth title together. Every observer in a NASCAR garage, the media and every major Las Vegas based sports book agency all seem to agree that ”Jimmie Five TGime” is going to become “Jimmie Six Pack” this year.
The team looked good to win that sixth title last year until some unforeseen bad racing luck hampered the effort late in the season. They finished third in the final points standings while collecting five wins, 18 top five finishes, 24 top tens along with an 11 average finish ratio.
The team’s sponsorship program will again be provided by Lowes Home Improvement Stores and Kobalt Tools although sometime this season HMS will have to renegotiate these contracts which expire at the end of 2013.
#5 KASEY KAHNE.
The fourth HMS team is also expected to be a championship contender. The dynamic combination of Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis last year finished fourth in the points based on a pair of wins along with 12 top five finishes and 19 top tens. With the start of his second full time season with HMS, Kahne recently said “I believe this is the best shot at a title I’ve ever had.”
The team’s sponsor profile is also very solid and includes Farmer’s Insurance, Quaker State Oil, Time Warner Cable, Great Clips and Hendrick Cars (dot) Com.