Jeff Gordon Sportscaster? No. Gordon Hendrick Leader? Yes.

Getting ready for a leadership role?

Getting ready for a leadership role?

Let’s take a look at a few facts before I wander, as I often do, outside of the box.

Hendrick Motorsports is the General Motors factory team in NASCAR. No one can really, with a straight face, deny it.

Rick Hendrick really has no one to take over this level of operation in the future that would have his best interests at heart.

Jeff Gordon is retiring, but has stated that he doesn’t really want to get out of motorsports but is very vague in his statement regarding the future. People like Jeff Gordon do not decide to retire and not know what they’re going to do next. The simple, everyman image that he casts is a ruse. He shrewd and he knows.

My first inclination for Gordon’s possible future was that of show business, sometimes called sports-casting, but let’s face it, it is show business and Gordon is good at it. He seemed to revel in it at times, particularly while he was a ‘A’ list personality in New York City.

I recently stated to my friend and insider expert, Bill Marlowe, that I felt given Gordon’s accelerated role in commentating for the Xfinity series, he would go for showbiz.

It would seem natural, but Marlowe immediately adjusted my thinking that it would be a waste and not in the ultimate plan.

If you don’t know Bill Marlowe, you should. He’s raced Formula Atlantics, he’s engineered for Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott and Trevor Bayne. He knows his way around the NASCAR paddock.

Ingrid, Gordon's Belgian wife, is no doubt preparing Château belge de Gordon.

Ingrid, Gordon’s Belgian wife, is no doubt preparing Château belge de Gordon.

Marlowe then proceeded to line item by line item let me know the err of my thinking and in the process changed my mind.

Jeff Gordon will become a significant player in the Hendrick Motorsports operation.

Consultant? No. Ray Evernham is a consultant. Jeff Gordon will become a decision maker for the Chevrolet juggernaut.

How does this scenario line up without some evidence? There are plenty of breadcrumbs lying about that point to this scenario becoming a reality.

Jeff Gordon is a name with far more business acumen than a junior varsity level businessman.

He has made moves that suggest he is setting up Command Central, Charlotte. He has his New York property up for sale as well as a ranch in Utah.

Why sell these prime properties that would serve as a multi-millionaire get-away unless he had no time to use them?

In fact, the hammers and nails are flying as this goes to press on a palatial home in Charlotte. His wife, no doubt, is overseeing the European stones and artifacts being placed just so.

Think of it as a Belgian castle being planted in good old North Carolina.

He has equity in the #48 team, how much I do not know. I also don’t know if he has more equity than just the team, my suspicion is that he does.

Jeff Gordon is a household name in the United States. Ask anyone in any-town USA and they will recognize the name and General Motors is acutely aware of this.

The verdict for me, after heavy consultation with Marlowe, is that Jeff Gordon is being groomed for an executive role within the Hendrick organization. Chances are that process has been going on for quite some time.

Gordon would move into a vice-presidential role and over time, assuming he performs, will move up the ladder into what could become what we Formula One people call “Team Principle”. From there, CEO. He’s capable and has been taught well by both GM and Hendrick.

Deals such as this don’t differ dramatically from what you would see in the financial or manufacturing world who are searching for an eventual leader.

He would increase his equity stake over time as part of the package and as time goes on collect on the equity shares that have been set aside for him to acquire in the form of an earn out, thus ensuring he performs to the highest standards, which I’m sure he will.

Once the complete ‘higher education’ process is complete, he would then be offered a much greater equity stake, probably in the form of a split.

Some stock at the deal close, and the rest restricted to be taken either on specific dates or perhaps performance benchmarks. It could also be in the form of stock options, to be purchased at a preferred rate.

It makes sense. He’s been with Rick Hendrick forever, he has the knowledge and the ability, he is a household name and ultimately brings a ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ aura to General Motors.

Bill Marlowe convinced me.

Don’t you love the Machiavellian universe of auto racing? I do.





At The Last Minute – Again – Kahne Advances In Chase

Kasey Kahne became eligible for the Chase only two races before it began. He's now on the bubble to move into the next round.

Kasey Kahne became eligible for the Chase only two races before it began. He’s now on the bubble to move into the next round.

This season Kasey Kahne has gotten the job done. But the thing is, it’s always been at the last minute.

Kahne and his Hendrick Motorsports team have spent anxious weeks wondering if they were going to accomplish what they should in order to advance – and have any shot at a championship.

For most of the season it appeared Kahne would be the only Hendrick driver to fail to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

After the 24th race of the season, at Bristol, Kahne stood 13th in points. That was good enough to make the field of 16 for the Chase but there was a problem.

Kahne was one of eight drivers who had not won a race. Five of them ranked higher in points, which meant the only sure way Kahne was going to make the “playoffs” was to win – and he had only two races in which to do so before the Chase began.

He won at the next race at Atlanta on Labor Day weekend, the 25th event of the season. With the win Kahne advanced to 11th in points and was certain to qualify for the Chase.

After Richmond, where he finished 17th, Kahne remained 11th in points after re-seeding.

It wasn’t a very safe position. After three races in the Chase, the Contender Round would begin at Kansas – and only 12 drivers would compete. Four would be eliminated.

Kahne finished 13th at Chicagoland and 23rd at Loudon. He came to Dover, the final race in the Challenger Round, 11th in points – two positions from elimination.

Kahne raced his way into the Chase with a victory in Atlanta in August, his only win of the season.

Kahne raced his way into the Chase with a victory in Atlanta in August, his only win of the season.

He managed to pull it off and, again, at the last minute.

That Kahne would advance after Dover was doubtful. He had his own set of problems and it appeared he was often swapping the last qualifying position with Kurt Busch, the Stewart Haas Racing driver who was 14th in points when the race began.

Busch finished 18th, two spots better than Kahne. But it wasn’t enough.

Kahne held on to 12th in points, two positions and six points ahead of Busch.

“You can’t expect to advance running 18th,” Busch said. “You’ve got to have better lap times every time you go and hit the track. If you’re off, it’s hard to put the car up on your back and run it.

“I just chalk it up to me not getting the job done. It’s all my fault that we didn’t advance.”

The race wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for Kahne. He had his anxious moments.

“Early we drove to fifth and then we fell back a few spots on pit road, then drove back to sixth,” he said. “We fell back a few more spots and then we had a loose wheel.  

“From that point on I was just hoping the cautions didn’t come out or that they came out at the right time. Really, they just didn’t come out and we just had to race, race, race.”

Racing, Kahne added, was the only way he made it. If he had to rely on caution periods and top-flight pit stops, he wasn’t sure the day would’ve ended as he would’ve liked.

“I am glad NASCAR let us race for it today because that is the only way I could have gotten in,” Kahne said. “I guess if a couple cautions came out or something, we could have gotten the lucky dog but we had a better car than some of the other guys and we were able to race our way in. 

“Kenny (Francis, crew chief) did a great job and our team did a great job in preparation in giving us a top five or top three car.”

Kahne said he was comfortable in his Chevrolet and did not feel anxious – until almost the very end, that is. 

“I never really got nervous at all and I just raced real hard the whole time,” he said. “Kenny started telling me we were tied for 12th and this was with 30 to go. 

“Then he would tell me we were one point in and then maybe two points in, and then he wasn’t positive. 

“Then I started getting a little bit worried, so it was intense inside the car.”

For Kahne, the worrying isn’t over. At 12th, he’s in last place in points going into the Contender Round, which lasts three races – Kansas through the always-treacherous Talladega.

Afterward four drivers will be eliminated and only eight will move on to the Eliminator Round.

To make it Kahne has to rank eighth in points, or higher, or win a race.

The feeling here is that he doesn’t want to wait until the last moment to do either one.




Earnhardt Jr. Earns ‘Good Grades’ In 2013, Hopes Higher To Come

Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t win in 2013 he had one of his best seasons. He ran consistently well and finished No. 5 in the point standings to match his best Chase performances.

At the end of a season many members of the motorsports media rate drivers’ overall performances during the previous NASCAR Sprint Cup campaign.

It’s kinda like final grades from school – this driver gets an “A,” that one a “B,” and so forth, right on down to “F.”

Yeah, it’s all a matter of personal opinion, but then, doesn’t the motorsports media – me included – pretty much offer that all the time?

That said, you can easily figure what marks six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and 2013 runnerup Matt Kenseth received. They were at the top of the class.

There were other drivers who got grades that, while they didn’t make them class valedictorians, clearly indicated recognition of their performances.

I’m sure Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were among this group.

And I’m also sure Dale Earnhardt Jr. was, too.

If he wasn’t, well, call that one huge error in judgment.

Earnhardt Jr. had a very, very good year. He wound up fifth in points, which matched his career-best showing in the Chase, achieved twice in 2004 and 2006.

Also, this season was a very nice rebound from 2012, when Earnhardt Jr. stood 11th in points until he had to sit out two races with a concussion that occurred during testing at Kansas and was exacerbated at a crash at Talladega, the fourth race of the Chase.

He ended the year 12th in points and, obviously, well out of contention for the title.

Unfortunately, he did not win a race in 2013. He hasn’t won since Michigan in June of 2012.

While “Win, Dale Win!” has become the mantra for the “Junior Nation” – a collection of fans that pales compared to that for any other driver – they have to realize some measure of satisfaction in that their driver ran consistently well all season and finished among the top five.

One of Earnhardt Jr.’s best runs in the Chase was at Dover, where he won the pole and finished in second place, one of three runnerup finishes in the final 10 races of the year.

Earnhardt had 10 top-five finishes and 22 among the top 10. More impressive is the fact that he finished among the top 10 in eight of the Chase’s 10 races.

That includes three runnerup finishes, at Dover, Talladega and Texas, and a third-place run at Homestead that sealed his fifth-place points finish.

By the way, Earnhardt Jr. wound up just a single point behind fourth-place Kyle Busch.

And let’s not forget he finished second in the Daytona 500 a harbinger that good things might come.

“We just got behind in the regular season by not winning enough, not doing enough to get bonus points,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Those points are so important. If you put a good 10 races together, add them bonus points on top of it, man, you’re going to be hard to beat.”

No doubt Earnhardt Jr. would have loved to win. What driver wouldn’t? But he said throughout the year that his confidence and faith in his Hendrick Motorsports team were so strong that, at the very least, he never doubted its ability to be victorious.

He stressed that at Homestead.

“Yeah, we’ve actually been really good every week since the Chase started,” Earnhardt Jr. said after the race. “I can’t remember, but I think we were pretty good at Chicago before we blew a motor.”

That blown engine sent Earnhardt Jr. to a 35th-place finish and put him in a hole in the standings – from which he escaped nicely

“We came to Homestead and tested,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I really liked how that worked out.  We worked on the car real hard and real smart.  We felt like we had a car that was going to come to us and it surely did.

“We weren’t that great at the start of the race, but as the race wore on, the thing really came to life.”

Steve Letarte became Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief for the 2011 season after which the son of Dale Earnhardt earned his best statistical year since 2008, his first with Hendrick.

Earnhardt Jr. has only gotten better with Letarte’s leadership. And he knows it.

“I’m really happy to run as well as we have this season,” he said. “This has been one of the best years I’ve had, certainly the best year I’ve had working with Hendrick.

“I just want to give my team a lot of credit.  Steve, my engineers, did just an amazing job providing these good cars every week.”

If there have been good cars every week – and that seems obvious – Earnhardt Jr. can’t explain the reason why, although he’s tried.

“I’ve asked Steve over and over and asked everybody on the team at least once or twice what we’re doing different,” he said. “They said they’re not doing anything different.

“We have been more competitive, I think, not as a company, but I just think the No. 88 team has really stepped it up.”

Which, obviously, has been a boon for Earnhardt Jr. and fuels his – and those of his many fans – hopes for even better things to come, perhaps starting as early as 2014.

“I’m hoping next year we continue our trend and our trajectory and get a shot at winning a championship,” he said. “I think we can do it.”

And, if so, it naturally follows his many fans will be ecstatic – and he’ll get even higher grades.


Yes, It’s Boring, But it is The 600 and Johnson and Hendrick Can’t Be Ignored

Although his dominance of races at Charlotte Motor Speedway may have made things a bit dull for many fans, he will still be recognized as a strong favorite to win the Coca-Cola 600.

CONCORD, N.C. – I’m sorry if this bores you but the Coca-Cola 600 weekend can’t go by without a mention of Jimmie Johnson.

Yes, I know you’ve read plenty about him lately –probably so much so you’re fed up.

Yes, you know he won the Sprint All Star Race for a record fourth time.

And as if you don’t know it, you should realize that the Hendrick Motorsports driver is a strong favorite to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend.

Let’s face it, the numbers don’t like. Aside from the fact that Johnson and his Hendrick team have been among the strongest at every 1.5-mile track – like Charlotte – the California native and CMS have become downright chummy.

Johnson has six career victories at Charlotte. He has won the 600 three times, in 2003, 2004 and 2005 – in which both years, by the way, he swept both Sprint Cup events at CMS.

If he wins this weekend he’ll become the speedway’s all-time winner, breaking out of a tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

Johnson has finished among the top five in about 50 percent and among the top 10 a healthy 65.2 percent in his 23 career starts.

He has the best driver rating at the track – a 111.7 average out of a possible 150 points.

Matt Kenseth, the winner of the Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington this year, may emerge as a strong challenger for Johnson in the Coca-Cola 600.

There’s more, but you get the point and why increase the boredom?

Now, there is this intriguing fact: Johnson’s last win in the 600 was in 2005 and he hasn’t scored a top-10 finish in the Memorial Day event since 2007.

Yes, Johnson won the fall Bank of America 500 in 2009, but, wow, it’s been six years since the acknowledged master of CMS has cracked the top 10 during the month of May?

Over that time the winners have been a diverse lot, including Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, David Reutimann and Matt Kenseth.

In fact, Kahne has won the 600 three times in the last six years. He won it last year, his first as a teammate to Johnson at Hendrick.

Maybe Kahne has gotten as chummy with CMS as Johnson.

Kahne admits he does indeed like Charlotte – but not for reasons you might not expect.

“I get a bit jittery because of the excitement and the feeling of just wanting to go, whether it’s in anticipation of qualifying, the race or even practice,” he said. “But it’s one of the things I strive for.

“I enjoy that and I like it when you feel that pressure. It’s a good thing.”

While Johnson’s 600 performances haven’t been of their usual quality over the past six years, he thinks things are changing – as evidenced by his win in the All Star Race.

“The recent repaving of the track changed things for us,” Johnson said. ““Before, we knew, literally, what time in the afternoon we should make whatever adjustment we needed to make to the car. It was like clockwork. Didn’t matter the year, just every single time.

“It’s not that way anymore. However, the track has aged and it’s like it’s coming back to us.”

Hendrick is easily the dominant team at CMS. Two of its drivers, Johnson and Jeff Gordon, have a combined 11 victories at the track. New teammate Kahne has four, but three of those came in Ray Evernham’s Dodges.

And it appears the odds favor a Chevrolet driver in the 600. Chevy has won the majority of races over the last 12 years and three of the last five. But let’s not assume one of them is going to be victorious this year.

It’s not wise to assume anything in NASCAR races.

For example, there are a couple of Toyota drivers who come to mind as serious contenders for a 600 victory.

Toyota’s record at Charlotte pales next to Chevrolet’s with only two wins, but a couple of Joe Gibbs Racing competitors have shown plenty of strength during the early part of the season.

Matt Kenseth, who won twice at CMS while driving for Roush Fenway Racing, has already won three races this season.

He’s also been named the first quarter recipient of the Driver Of The Year Award. He may well challenge Johnson for the championship.

Kenseth admits, however, that while his Toyota has performed admirably at several tracks, he’s uncertain about Charlotte.

“I really feel like as an organization we’ve been pretty strong everywhere, I mean at all the race tracks,” Kenseth said. “I feel like there’s a couple where we’ve been off a little bit, but one of them was California and Denny (Hamlin) was leading the last lap and Kyle (Busch) won.

“So, yeah, I think our cars have been pretty fast everywhere. It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what it is because this is my first year.  It’s a whole new race car.  It’s hard to compare to last year’s car.

“But we’ve been fast everywhere. Now, whether that is the case at Charlotte, well, like I said, it’s a whole new race car for me.”

Then there’s Kyle Busch.

He’s won twice this season in Sprint Cup competition and should have won a third time at Darlington, where he dominated but gave way to Kenseth.

He won in the Craftsman Truck Series at CMS last week and has six victories at the speedway in the Nationwide Series.

But he has yet to win a Sprint Cup race.

Still, he can’t be ignored.

“The Nationwide Series has been good to me there,” Busch said. “The truck series has been pretty good to me there, too. But a Cup Series win has eluded me.

“We’re definitely getting closer than I was back when I first started racing at Charlotte. I think I have something like 10 top-10 finishes in my last 12 races going into this weekend, so I hope my luck is turning around a bit and I can finally get that Sprint Cup win there.

“We’ve been very close the last couple of years.”

Who knows? He, and several others drivers, might get even closer this year – all the way to victory lane.

But, as much as many fans don’t want to hear this, the fact remains the edge goes to Johnson, Hendrick and, for that matter, any Chevrolet driver.

Alas, as boring as all of that may be.








NASCAR’s Brian Vickers: Welcome Back

Brian Vickers sat out most of the 2010 Sprint Cup season due to blood clots found in his lung,
legs and one arm. After 7 months of treatment and recuperation he’s ready to return to Red
Bull Racing. He has unfinished business. Michele Rahal of,
breaks it down.

Hendrick’s Bold Move May Be The Best One Yet

The best NASCAR Sprint Cup teams never rest on their accomplishments, no matter how great they may be.

They strive to improve; to rectify problems big and small. Many times they do and that’s why they continue to be successful and rank among the best.

Case in point: Hendrick Motorsports.

Today, it is considered as the top team in NASCAR. It has won a historic five consecutive championships with driver Jimmie Johnson. It has 10 titles overall, the most of any team since “official” stock car racing began in 1949.

In American professional sports, Hendrick is one of only four teams to win five consecutive championships. The others are the Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Montreal Canadiens.

Even with all of its achievements – and more – team owner Rick Hendrick firmly believes his organization can get better.

There are a few things that concerned him. Two of his teams did not make the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2010 after three of them did a year earlier.

During the 10-race playoff Johnson seemed vulnerable. He had to come from behind to earn the championship at Homestead.

Jeff Gordon, ninth in the final standings, did not win a race. Neither did Mark Martin, who slumped to 13th in points, nor Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drifted to 21st in points.

As you know, Hendrick’s bold move has been a massive crew chief change. Martin now has Lance McGrew. Gordon is paired with Alan Gustafson. Earnhardt Jr. has been teamed with Steve Letarte.

The tandem of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus remains intact – as it should.

Hendrick said the changes will improve his organization across the board. He added that, while a championship was won in 2010, his four teams weren’t where they needed to be.

He insisted that the changes were not made solely to raise Earnhardt Jr.’s sagging fortunes.

Maybe not, but the feeling here is that Hendrick has made another change that might, just might, give Earnhardt Jr. his best opportunity to return to winning form – something he desperately needs to do.

The No. 5 and No. 24 cars of Martin and four-time champion Gordon will be fielded out of the same facility that will be known as the 5/24 shop.

The No. 48 and No. 88 cars of Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. will be fielded out of the 48/88 shop. Gordon’s No. 24 team had previously been united with Johnson’s No. 48.

The 48/88 union is, in one man’s opinion, a stroke of genius. This pairs Earnhardt Jr. not only with Letarte, certainly a proven leader in his years with Gordon, but also with Knaus – a crew chief who has already earned a solid reputation as the man who directed Johnson to five titles and all of his 53 career victories.

Knaus’ influence could prove tremendous. He is a no-nonsense perfectionist who has demanded much of Johnson and will do so with Earnhardt Jr., with the goal of getting the driver physically fit and mentally ready. There will be no coddling.

Hendrick split Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and brought McGrew aboard in mid-2009. That didn’t work. Nor did a restructure of the 5/88 shop in 2010, which gave Earnhardt Jr. several of the key personnel that helped Martin finish second in points a year earlier.

Something else needed to be done.

Hendrick is not about to directly unite Knaus with Earnhardt Jr. because that would disrupt the highly successful association Knaus has with Johnson. If it works – and boy does it work – why change it?

But he’s done the next best thing. He’s put Knaus in a position, with the able assistance of Letarte, to positively influence Earnhardt Jr., both personally and professionally.

When Earnhardt Jr. joined Hendrick in 2007 the team owner said that making the driver a champion would be a huge challenge. He also said that if Earnhardt Jr. won it would be expected. If he didn’t fans would believe that Hendrick was not providing him with the best equipment and personnel.

The feeling here is that Hendrick has made the boldest and most promising changes yet.

In fact, the crew chief and team swaps could benefit the entire Hendrick organization.

But if it all does not help Earnhardt Jr., well, what then?

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