Hendrick teams, competitors need to pick up pace

BY Larry McReynolds • March 25, 2010

Here’s something I don’t understand. It seems like more and more folks are getting upset that Jimmie Johnson is winning so much. Boy, that doesn’t make sense to me. I think it is so unfair to Jimmie, crew chief Chad Knaus and everyone on that No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. C’mon folks, they are just doing their job to the fullest.

If you are going to be upset with someone, then you should be upset with the other 42 teams since they aren’t doing their job quite as well as the Johnson group. Taking that a step further, the folks that should really be upset are the fans of the other three Hendrick cars. The reason I say that, all three cars -- those of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin – have the same resources, engineering support, car and engine technology that Johnson’s team has.

Why are people today more upset than when, say, Cale Yarborough or Darrell Waltrip or Dale Earnhardt would win a bunch of races in a single year? It just seems they are more upset with Jimmie Johnson winning than people were with those guys. I don’t know that I have the answer.

Maybe one thing is that despite how much he has tried at times, Jimmie hasn’t shown that personality or character that a Darrell, Dale, Tony Stewart or others have shown in the past. To be fair, watching Jimmie after he won Sunday at Bristol, whether it was because it was his first-ever Bristol victory or because it was his 50th Cup victory, he showed more emotion than I have seen in a long time. Sunday’s celebration might have been more emotional than I even saw from him last November when he was crowned the champion at Homestead.

So that was pretty cool. The other really neat thing I saw Sunday after the race was also pretty cool. I saw a driver who led a lot of the race, yet was still mad as a hornet because he lost the race and finished third. That man was Kurt Busch. Golly Kurt was mad. He threw a water bottle in anger and I swear if you looked close enough you could see the steam coming out of his ears.

Folks I said to myself, “YES.” That’s what we have got to have. That’s what we have got to get back to. Kurt Busch didn’t give a flip about a good points day. Kurt Busch cared about winning that race. That’s the way it should be.

Now Jimmie and his team have won three of the first five races. Yes, it looks like all the stars are lining up for the No. 48 team to win its fifth championship -- but hold on for a second. I see Kurt Busch, new crew chief Steve Addington and that entire No. 2 Penske Racing team being the ones to end the championship domination by Jimmie and the Hendrick bunch. Why do I say that? I see the same tenacity, the same drive and the same attitude of winning-is-the-only-thing-that-matters that we have seen from Johnson’s team these last four years.

The chemistry between Kurt and his new crew chief is coming together and coming together at a rapid pace. Keep this in mind. Kurt and Steve have five races under their belt. Jimmie and Chad have 296 races together. It was crew chief Steve Addington that went up to Kurt and whispered something in his ear that got his driver calmed down Sunday.

So now we are in Martinsville for the second short-track race of the season. Yes, it is back-to-back short-track races, but folks you cannot find any two tracks more different than Bristol and Martinsville. Bristol, as you know, is a very high-banked multi-groove race track. Martinsville is just the opposite. It’s a fairly flat short track that simply doesn’t have a lot of grooves of racing.

It’s another 500-lap race, but actually it will probably be harder on equipment than 500 laps at Bristol would be. Bristol is normally hard on right front tires and sheet metal. Martinsville is hard on everything. You name it – brakes, transmission, gears, engine – Martinsville is hard on everything mechanically. Oh and don’t forget that Martinsville, just like Bristol, can be hard on emotions and feelings. Martinsville doesn’t offer much room to pass like Bristol does, so the driver frustration level rises quicker there.

Obviously aerodynamics at a flat half-mile short track will not be the topic of conversation. With that said, though, everyone is anxiously waiting to see what a race is going to be like with this car with the conventional rear spoiler. Again, we won’t know any more about how the spoiler reacts after this weekend than we did going into this weekend. At Martinsville, racing is about mechanical grip and not aerodynamic grip.

Still, folks are very excited to see this car with that spoiler on it Sunday on NASCAR on FOX for the first time in history of the new-model car. Yes, the wing is gone and the spoiler is on.

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