Jeff Gordon’s victory last week at Pocono Raceway produced the very real possibility that all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers will be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
That would fulfill the goal team owner Rick Hendrick established in the preseason.
If it happens, what’s next? Does the famous cooperation between the Hendrick teams suddenly dissolve into a greedy, mad rush for a championship?
“People are always thinking the communication stops,” Jimmie Johnson said Friday. “It doesn’t. It can’t. At Hendrick Motorsports, the way it’s set up the information is always, always there. Every report every team makes goes into a database, and it’s there. Maybe the drivers don’t talk as much, but all the information is there.”
Johnson said additional input from Hendrick’s newest team – Kasey Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis – and the increasing power of the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-Steve Letarte combination has lifted all boats at Hendrick this season.
“We definitely share information,” Johnson said. “Over the off-season, we really aggressively went after our setups on our car and made some changes as a company. I think a big difference in things has been the addition of Kenny Francis and Kasey Kahne.
“They brought in new ideas, and we’ve been able to perfect that and make the cars stronger. And I have to give Steve Letarte and Dale Junior a lot of credit for the areas they’ve improved and brought speed. We’re packaging it all together and refinishing things.”
Johnson said Gordon’s surprise win at Pocono last week puts the 24 team in a solid position to challenge in the Chase.
“I feel like the garage area knows how strong the 24 has been,” he said. “Without a win, he wasn’t in a wild-card situation. I think Chase-related the garage is much more concerned about him, and they should be.
“It’s a great driver and team and plenty capable of winning the championship. Before the win, momentum seemed to be against him. But you can’t count the 24 out. From a team standpoint, I want all four cars in the Chase and hopefully battling for the championship.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.