With three race wins and one All Star victory in the last 4 weeks, Hendrick Motorsports' Teams are all smiles except for one.
Jimmie Johnson's victory at the Monster Mile in Dover Sunday gave him two wins at the half way mark of NASCAR's regular season. Add a convincing victory in the All Star event along the way and suddenly the talk of a 6th Cup Series Championship begins to surface. Although Johnson doesn't want to talk about it, many are picking his #48 team as the ones to beat for the 2012 title. "I think things are very good for our company," said Johnson after the event. "We know the areas where we found some raw speed and now we are fine-tuning from here. I think two wins puts us in a very nice position. We need to keep the pressure on and roll into September with the same thing in order to win a championship."
Johnson is not the only Hendrick driver to visit victory lane this season. Kasey Kahne notched his first victory for his new team with a win in NASCAR's longest race the Coca-Cola 600 last weekend. The victory was a big relief for Hendrick's newest driver and now his task is to figure out how to keep the momentum moving forward. "To get that first win out of the way, and now I've won a race for Hendrick Motorsports," said Kahne. "We need to figure out how to win more. I think it really gives our team, our whole team a lot of confidence and momentum, and we feel good about the direction that we're all headed in right now."
With two teams already in the win column, the focus is to get the other two to follow suit. The #88 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr. would seem to be the easiest to move forward. After all, he has 11 top ten finishes in the first 13 races which are more than any other driver as well as being the only team to complete all competitive laps so far this season. With the consistency question out of the way, the only thing standing between Jr. and victory is closing the deal.
The #24 team of four time champion Jeff Gordon appears to be the biggest challenge if team owner Rick Hendrick wants to get all of his teams into the Chase. To say that Gordon has been struck with the Bad Luck Bug would be an understatement. Sitting in 21st position in the point standings at the half way mark, Gordon finds himself in jeopardy of not making the top ten by the post season. His best chance in making the Chase is to start winning. "We don't care about finishing top-15 or top-10 right now. That does nothing for us," said Gordon. "We need wins." Gordon has run well this season but, has been the victim of some very bad luck in virtually every race. In fact, for a time on Sunday, it appeared that Gordon was close to changing his fortune. "The fastest car doesn't always win the race," Gordon said. "It's always more frustrating when you've got a car that can win and show it by going up there and taking the lead." Gordon overcame his first unlucky break, a lose wheel on lap 250, which put him a lap down. However, when climbing back through the field after his last pit stop, a caution came out for a questionable piece of debris that put the former champion a lap down for the second time. The unfortunate series of events seemed to seal his fate for another afternoon and didn't sit well with the frustrated driver. "Yeah, I can't wait to see that debris on TV," Gordon said. "I'd like to see it, because I certainly never saw it. I'm not going to make any comments until I see what their reasoning for it was."