Published January 13, 2015
Rick Hendrick has two series champions in his stable, lucrative sponsorship, seemingly endless resources and an unwavering commitment to his organization. It's given him the most dominant team in NASCAR.
Now Dale Earnhardt Jr. is to join the team next season, creating a lineup likened to NASCAR's version of the New York Yankees. Just how powerful it makes the team remains to be seen. Right now, however, rival owners aren't too concerned with Hendrick's assembly of a Murderer's Row on wheels.
"We were going to have to race Junior in a Chevrolet somewhere, so for him to be with Hendrick is just fine with me," said Jack Roush, who fields a five-car team that includes 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth.
"Certainly I didn't have a say in it. They didn't ask me for approval or permission. But I wouldn't trade my lineup of drivers for any I see out there."
Roush was the best of NASCAR just two seasons ago, when he put all five of his cars in the Chase for the championship. Hendrick had just one — Jimmie Johnson — as four-time series champion Jeff Gordon failed to make the field.
The cyclical nature of NASCAR has been evident in the 50 races since, with Hendrick replacing Roush at the top of the sport.
Hendrick did it by spending lavishly on research, development and dedicated test teams. He was rewarded last season with three cars in the Chase and Johnson's first championship. The momentum carried into this season, and Hendrick is close to unbeatable with 10 wins through 14 races.
"Rick's a powerhouse team. He's got great stuff, great drivers," said Ray Evernham, who won three championships as a crew chief for Hendrick. "It's a free country and fair trade. We all have the same opportunity that Rick Hendrick has. Right now he's built the place to go. But that's not to say somebody else can't do it.
"Jack Roush had it a number of years ago. Rick's got it right now. You can't begrudge somebody and say it's good for the sport or bad for the sport. But this sport is cyclical. It comes and goes."
Hendrick is the first to admit his time at the top might be fleeting, and fully expects his teams to struggle at some point this season. And while 10 wins early in the season are tremendous, he'd rather win the last 10 races of the year — when the championship is on the line.
"We have been very fortunate this year," he said. "I have to check the horseshoe to make sure it hasn't fallen completely out every morning because we've had some races this year that we could (have lost). And you're going to be asking me probably 10 races from now, 'Hey, what happened?' And we're going to be doing the same thing."
Adding Earnhardt to the stable guarantees nothing in terms of wins or championships, and Hendrick admits to already feeling the pressure of needing to help Junior achieve his goal of winning a title.
The Hendrick drivers aren't sure yet just what Earnhardt will add to the mix because until he gets into one of their cars and starts sitting in on meetings everything is unknown.
But Gordon is certain the organization didn't need to sign NASCAR's most popular driver to make it a dream team.
"I felt that way before Junior was coming," he said. "I feel like we have a great organization. I will put this on the record: I'm pretty sure this will be the last person he ever drives for because I know what kind of person Rick Hendrick is and what kind of organization we have and once you come here, you don't want to go anywhere else.
"It's just that good of an organization and that good of people."