What is wrong with Earn­hardt and Gor­don’s for­mer NASCAR team?

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - By Bren­dan Marks

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — The ac­co­lades speak for them­selves.

Those 16 NASCAR cham­pi­onships, in­clud­ing 12 in the Cup Series. Hun­dreds of wins. All the no­table names — Dale Earn­hardt Jr., Jeff Gor­don, Jim­mie John­son — and all their no­table ac­com­plish­ments.

It’s what made Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports, at least for much of the past two decades, ar­guably NASCAR’s premier team.

So what the heck is wrong with them now?

We’re only six races into the 2018 NASCAR sea­son, and al­ready the alarms have been sounded over at Hen­drick. The team’s cur­rent four driv­ers — Alex Bow­man, John­son, Chase El­liott and rookie Wil­liam By­ron — have col­lected only one Top 5 fin­ish al­to­gether (El­liott at Phoenix).

They are, re­spec­tively, 14th, 17th, 18th and 20th in the NASCAR stand­ings.

And John­son just lost the only spon­sor he’s ever known, Lowe’s, be­yond this sea­son.

None of that is up to the Hen­drick stan­dards. Not even close.

So what hap­pened? What caused one of NASCAR’s best teams to nose­dive like it has?

First off, talk like that. Hen­drick isn’t nose­div­ing or spi­ral­ing or dis­in­te­grat­ing any­time soon. It’s still one of the most rep­utable or­ga­ni­za­tions in NASCAR with some of the best equip­ment avail­able. And did ev­ery­one for­get about the seven-time Cup cham­pion on staff?

No, the re­al­ity is that Hen­drick’s prob­lems are tem­po­rary. They’re also not en­tirely on Hen­drick.

For ex­am­ple: the new Chevy Ca­maro. Hen­drick is one of the teams driv­ing it this sea­son.

So too is Chip Ganassi Rac­ing, Rich- ard Chil­dress Rac­ing and a hand­ful of other smaller teams. What do they all have in com­mon? They’ve largely strug­gled in the early going this sea­son (even though Chevy driver Austin Dil­lon won the Day­tona 500). The only Top 10 Chevy driver in the stand­ings now is Kyle Lar­son in ninth.

But we ex­pected that sort of be­gin­ning. Toy­ota driv­ers had the same trou­bles with their new car at the start of last sea­son, and didn’t that turn out just fine? There’s an ad­just­ment pe­riod for all the Chevy driv­ers right now, in­clud­ing those at Hen­drick.

Then there’s the turnover fac­tor. Gone are Earn­hardt and Kasey Kahne, re­placed this time by Bow­man and By­ron. It’s By­ron’s first-ever Cup sea­son and Bow­man’s first full sea­son on a de­cent team.

Any­one who ex­pected those two to come out scor­ing Top 5’s from the get-go was un­re­al­is­tic. If any­thing, it’s im­pres­sive that they’re both not far­ther back in the stand­ings.

Now, John­son’s per­for­mance dropoff has been some­what of a cause for con­cern, but Lowe’s leav­ing the sport is much more in­dica­tive of NASCAR’s over­all health than John­son’s driv­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Those seven rings say a lot, but so too does the fact that even in what he calls his worst pro sea­son in 2017, he had three wins and al­most made the cham­pi­onship race.

He’s more than earned the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

Of course if Hen­drick’s prob­lems en­dure, this whole con­ver­sa­tion changes. If by sum­mer the team is still de­void of wins and qual­ity fin­ishes, if the new guys still haven’t as­sim­i­lated, then we can talk se­ri­ously about what’s going wrong at Hen­drick.

But for now? These first six races are more of a speed bump than a pot­hole — as it al­ways has been at Hen­drick, things will be fine.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.