Hendrick not satisfied after 5th title
For Hendrick Motorsports, it was time for a change.
On Tuesday afternoon, HMS announced it was moving three of its drivers — Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin — to different teams.
Gordon will have the former No. 5 crew led by Alan Gustafson, Earnhardt Jr. inherits Steve Letarte and Martin will be paired with Lance McGrew.
On Wednesday morning, team owner Rick Hendrick said that even though his company won its fifth-straight championship, it had become “complacent.” Discussions of changes began in early November after the Texas race weekend when Hendrick gathered his managers for a three-hour meeting to establish a better plan.
“I used one of Churchill’s quotes,” Hendrick said. “It’s not enough that we do our best, sometimes we have to do what's required. I think after last year in ‘09, winning the championship and finishing one-two-three in points, we thought we made some adjustments, but we just got complacent and other teams were getting stronger and stronger.
“We weren’t where we needed to be, so we started to really step up our program in every area. I think after the championship these moves would make all four teams better. The excitement inside the organization yesterday afternoon and last night, everybody is pumped, excited and have a new energy level to attack and go into 2011.
Despite winning five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships and scoring six wins this season with the No. 48 Lowe’s team, no other driver was victorious at Hendrick Motorsports in 2010.
While Gordon qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the last time a Hendrick driver not named Johnson won was Martin 45 races ago at New Hampshire. Not only is Earnhardt suffering a 93-race winless drought, he’s missed NASCAR’s postseason the past two seasons.
Still, Hendrick said the changes were not centered around Earnhardt, NASCAR’s most popular driver. Hendrick felt that the company’s performance as a whole was off in 2010 — even the No. 48 team. His greater goal is to improve all four teams for 2011.
“We did not make a major move because of Dale or his situation,” Hendrick said. “All those factors weighed into it, but when I looked at the personalities and the strong traits of each team and each crew chief and each engineer, and then looked at the drivers and then looked at starting to do something to make a change to pair up people that I thought would be better together, it’s probably one of the most radical moves I’ve made in my years of racing to do this many at one time.
“But when you know these guys — and these crew chiefs and drivers I know well for years — knowing that the motors, chassis and bodies are all the same, that it had to be the combination of chemistry inside of the team. ...The proof will be in the performance next year. But I’m excited about making all four teams better. We need to be better across the board. We’re going to get better. We’re going to work harder, and that’s the attitude and the fire that’s in the whole organization now.”