CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Team owner Rick Hendrick is all about numbers.
With 218 wins and 11 championships in 29 years racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Hendrick Motorsports enters its 30th season with four of the biggest names in the sport — all vying to add to that win total and bring home an 12th championship.
“The tread is just about worn off of my tires,” said Hendrick the NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I remember being the youngest guy on pit road, now I’m one of the oldest. It’s been a great trip.”
But what sounded like a man ready for retirement quickly transitioned to a team owner that is ready to tackle NASCAR’s newest challenges and changes.
“I think this is going to be one of the best seasons we’ve seen in NASCAR in a long time,” said Hendrick.
Six-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson wasn’t shy about his thoughts regarding NASCAR’s changes to qualifying and the Chase format, saying it crossed his mind that the modifications were being made to impede his dominance over the series. But he also realizes that change can sometimes be a good thing, even if it’s at his expense.
“At the end of the day, my focus is on what’s best for our sport,” said Johnson, who has won six of the last eight Sprint Cup titles. “I was shocked to hear what was proposed, but if that’s the bullet we need then so be it. We need the grandstands full and we need people watching at home and the sponsors to be happy. That’s what it’s all about and it’s our job as drivers to figure out how to win.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. also admitted that he hasn’t always surrendered to change easily. But now that it’s here, he’s fine with it.
“I wasn’t really excited about change that much until a lot of change started happening, so I guess I had to get used to it,” said Earnhardt, collecting laughs from media and his teammates. “Now let’s change it all. No, but I’m all for it and it should be a lot of fun — I think it’s going to be fun for the drivers, too. A lot of times we change these things for the fans, but I think this is something the drivers are going to enjoy as well.”
Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, who have both admitted that they’ve struggled with consistency over the last couple years, see the positives of NASCAR’s alterations, specifically with qualifying.
“I like the qualifying format and that we have several opportunities to try and post that one fast lap,” said Kahne. “I think that helps me a lot.”
“I’ve been a huge fan of F-1’s qualifying format for years,” said Gordon. “I love that qualifying procedure and I think it’s fantastic that we’re going to start utilizing it.”
In spite of all the changes NASCAR is making, when all the dust settles it’s about who’s standing in victory lane. And more often than not, it’s a strong qualifying effort on Friday that can make the difference between a win and wreck on Sundays.
“You know, we have 198 poles,” said Hendrick, noting his teams’ total NASCAR Sprint Cup Series poles in 29 years of racing.