Another championship for Hendrick all part of a well-crafted master plan

AVONDALE, Ariz. - Like everything else in his racing and business life, Rick Hendrick already has a well-crafted plan for celebrating another Sprint Cup Series championship.


He wants to make sure everyone within Hendrick Motorsports understands to the very end that none of his teams are any more special than another. That's why he will talk with the third-place driver in the Chase for the Championship, then second place and finish with the champion.

There are three drivers who still have a mathematical chance to win the championship, and all three work for Hendrick. Jeff Gordon will be eliminated if Jimmie Johnson starts the race. Mark Martin will be eliminated if Johnson finishes no worse than 25th.

While the winner remains undecided, Hendrick is assured of another championship. He will tie his NASCAR record of four in a row no matter what happens during the season finale Ford 400, and he will add to his overall record of nine Cup championships.

More impressive, however, is the way he's been able to keep everyone happy. Johnson probably will win the championship, but his two biggest supporters have been Martin and Gordon.

For Hendrick, it's all part of the master plan: bring in the best people, convince them to work together and share in the glory.

"I really have a hard time explaining how proud I am of the organization, these guys right here, just unbelievable," Hendrick said after Johnson won Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway. "You know, we thought we would be good this year, knowing that one of our cars is going to win it. I said (Sunday) morning, Jimmie could be getting his fourth and setting a record that no one's ever done, Mark could get his first one, or Jeff could get the fifth one.

"I'm just proud of the way they work together. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and Jimmie have just been unbelievable. To watch them, I said this earlier today, I'm just glad I don't have to race against them."

Hendrick already has won four Sprint Cup championships with Gordon, three with Johnson and one with Terry Labonte. He also has three Camping World Truck Series titles with driver Jack Sprague.

Winning championships never gets old for the man who runs the second-largest group of car dealerships - Hendrick Automotive Group - in the country with nearly 60 outlets. And the formula for success never changes.

"They all know that that's what got us here," he said. "The task at hand is to try to make sure that we don't forget how we got here and working together. Jimmie's got to believe that if he's even, he's going to outrun the other guys. And Chad, the same deal. But, you know, on any given day, you look at the points, the other guys have had good days, too.

"I think the mentality of working together and being able to work under these kind of conditions when you're battling each other for the same goal, but you go into a room together on Saturday and you break it all down and you open up and you share. It's taken us a long time to get here, to get to that point. I think it's been good for us. I love the way the crew chiefs work together, complement each other.

"All of us, everybody pulling the same way, has helped us to get to this point where we are battling three cars against each other for the grand prize. But I think all of them will say that's what got us to the party."

Johnson started Sunday's race from third place. His No. 48 Chevrolet took off after the first round of pit stops, leading all but 22 of the final 260 laps. Jeff Burton finished second, followed by Denny Hamlin in third, Martin in fourth and Martin Truex Jr. in fifth.

In private meetings at the shop, Hendrick individually tells all three of his top drivers they are the best of the bunch. Then it's up to them to prove him right.

"I try to give them a snapshot of I'm going to be on neutral ground," he said. "I love them all. I want to settle it on the track."

No matter how it turns out, one thing is a certainty: Rick Hendrick will be the championship car owner - just like he planned.



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