George Diaz: Hendrick team clearly leading pack of Chase contenders

Johnson has six Cup titles. Gordon has four and may just claim his fifth this season. If he doesn’t, there is good money on Earnhardt to win his first Cup title.
Sep 3, 2014

Kasey Kahne and his workplace BFFs sent a frightening image to the other drivers in the mix for the Chase for the Cup title this past weekend in Atlanta.

As Kahne went through the obligatory celebratory splashes on Victory Lane, he was joined by Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., all part of the Hendrick Motorsports dynasty celebrating spots in the Chase.

Since the beat-up over-the-hill and overpaid New York Yankees don’t count any more, Hendrick Motorsports is as good as it gets when it comes to crushing everybody’s championship expectations in professional sports.

Johnson has six Cup titles. Gordon has four and may just claim his fifth this season. If he doesn’t, there is good money on Earnhardt to win his first Cup title.

And now comes Kahne, giving owner Rick Hendrick four of his own guys in the 16-driver poker match. And there are two more if you count drivers using Hendrick engines. That would be you, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, two of the four drivers from Stewart-Haas Racing with Hendrick firepower.

In the chase for speed, it is obvious that everyone is chasing Hendrick Motorsports.

“Will the [Joe] Gibbs cars have something for the Hendrick cars?” a reporter asked Matt Kenseth last weekend.

“I hope so,” he said. “It’s hard for one of those eight not to win every week. It’s almost impossible to beat them.”

All 43 cars in the scrum every weekend are very much homogenized with templates, so there is very little wiggle room when it comes to gaming the system.

And that’s not to suggest that anything nefarious is going on in the Hendrick compound. But it terms of technology, they have figured some things out that others haven’t.

“We all have got a little bit of work to do because it’s pretty obvious that the Hendrick engines are way ahead of everyone else,” Brad Keselowski said after Johnson won the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan in a race that included six Hendrick engines in the top eight spots. “Usually that’s not something you catch up with in one season. As far ahead as they are right now, they’re probably a full season ahead of everyone.”

The math is obvious: Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt have three victories apiece. Kahne now has one. Harvick has two and Busch has one. So that’s 13 victories in 25 races.

Not too shabby.

And even if he tries to put on a poker face, Hendrick has to be smiling inside and out knowing there’s a great chance for another keepsake team picture in Homestead, where the Cup champion will celebrate in November.

“I think when we’re tied with three cars for the most wins and the momentum with the 5 car [Kahne] going in, I think that we have got a really good shot,” Hendrick said. “I think that it’s the best balance that we have ever had with all the cars going into the Chase.”

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