Sprint Cup Preview 2013: Hendrick Motorsports Ends Year with With Heartbreak, But Eyes Another Championship
To say that the 2012 season for the group at Hendrick Motorsports was an off-year would be completely wrong. Sure, momentum right out of the gate was not apparent, but as the season continued it grew bigger, and spread throughout the entire organization. Every team driver got a victory at some point of the year.
It was the kind of year that saw new milestones get set, new members find their stride, and others have a year to forget.
Now, with new cars setting to hit the track for 2013, every member of the Hendrick organization is ready to start new, build off what was accomplished a season ago, and hopefully spend a trip to Las Vegas at the head table as their fellow competitors honor the success seen on the track.
Here's a look at Team Hendrick for the new season:
Jimmie Johnson: No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet SS
The team that has simply wrote the book on how to compete in the Chase could sum up their 2012 title run in one simple phrase, "Would have, could have, should have...but didn't." The man that has been nicknamed "Five-Time" had a year that quite possibly should have not only been a championship one, but also set historic marks on that quest.
At Darlington, Johnson earned Hendrick Motorsports it's remarkable 200th victory. He then won his third race at Indianapolis, with a car that had not seen the track since his Dover victory.
He would put the most pressure on Brad Keselowski in the Chase, making the young man earn his stripes with each lap.
But it all went away at Homestead, where even the best strategy can go awry. A missing lug nut, and eventually a broken rear gear, would give Johnson his sixth DNF of the year, none more painful as it meant no sixth championship.
His year did end with five wins, 18 top-fives, and 24 top-10's, typical numbers for Johnson. Don't expect the season-ending sorrow to linger. This Lowe's team is ready to rock and roll come Daytona.
Kasey Kahne: No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
It seems as though whenever Hendrick officially welcomes a new driver, the season may not start out exactly well, but it always ends with triumph. That was the case when he signed Mark Martin in 2009, and the successor to the No. 5, Kasey Kahne, was no different.
His season did not start out well, but this team found rhythm when it counted. Kahne would get his first win for Hendrick at a track he knows very well, and at a race where he is a familiar site in victory lane. It would be the Coca-Cola 600 where Kahne brought home his third win in the season's longest race.
Kahne would go on to record his second and final win at New Hampshire a few months later. Add on 12 top-fives and 19 top-10's, and it would be considered a successful year. His fourth-place finish in the points is proof of that.
Do not expect his second year to be a slouch, this young man has the capability to not only win races, but bring the No. 5 it's first title since 1996.
Jeff Gordon: No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
What more can be said about the season of Hendrick's veteran driver except, "What more can happen?" Gordon saw every kind of disaster one could see in a season. Upside down in the Bud Shootout, blown motor in Daytona, cut tire at Bristol, wrecked late at Martinsville, multiple flats at Darlington, loose wheels, penalties...it was a season of chaos for the No. 24 team.
And that was excluding the crazy scene at Phoenix when his team and that of Clint Bowyer's got into a fight in the garage. To say the fans were going insane for that instance would be like comparing what fans in Chicago would do if the Cubs won the Pennant.
Gordon finally had some good luck when he avoided a late wreck at Pocono to achieve his first win of the year, and then of all things would stretch his fuel to beat Bowyer in the season's final race at Homestead.
By Gordon's standards, you'd say it was a good year, as he also had 12 top-fives and 19 top-10's to go along with his wins. But his four DNF's were not exactly what he was used to.
With a new look for Drive to End Hunger, and a brand new car, Gordon is wanting to erase the memory of 2012. He still has his own "Drive for Five" to fulfill before he hangs up his helmet. This season could be that time.
Dale Earnhardt Jr: No. 88 Diet Mtn. Dew/National Guard Chevrolet SS
After years of what could have been, finally the entire "Junior Nation" could stand up and rejoice as their leader had a year to remember. Junior found the combination with his team to finally yield the results he was hoping for. Ten top-fives and 19 top-10's are marks that weren't seen by the No. 88 team in three years.
But no mark meant more than when Junior put his No. 88 Chevrolet in victory lane at Michigan, the exact site and the exact race of his last win nearly four seasons ago.
The young man got the monkey off his back, and his entire entourage of fans could scream in relief, joy and excitement in seeing their leader achieve victory once again. At the same time, they also felt sorrow as he stepped out of his car for two Chase events due to concussions suffered at both Kansas Speedway during testing and Talladega Superspeedway in the last-lap chaos. But, his fans were more sympathetic and understanding in that the choice to step out was his, as he put his life ahead of his career.
Regan Smith would pilot his car those two weeks, and as a thank-you so to speak Junior hired him to race his Nationwide car full-time in 2013. Now, Junior is back where he's comfortable, and at the wheel of an entirely different car for the new year, as in looks but not brand.
He still has a title to win, but it's a guarantee that his fans will be back in full support, as will his team, and owner.
Next Preview: Michael Waltrip Racing