Breakthrough for Hendrick could happen in Kansas

Jimmie Johnson waits for the final practice to start for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., on Friday.



KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s turned into the joke that nobody can really laugh about, the cloud hanging over one of the most successful teams in the history of NASCAR.

Thirteen races have passed since Hendrick Motorsports reached Victory Lane, the longest drought the team has experienced since the 2002-03 seasons. And the result is that Hendrick is still stuck on 199 victories, the milestone maddeningly just out of reach.

“You know, now it’s turned. We’ve been so close to getting it the last month or so, it’s kind of a deal now where we’re joking, like, let’s not even think about it,” said five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who claimed the team’s last victory in October at Kansas Speedway.

The series is back this weekend for the first of two races this year.

It should give the powerhouse team some positive vibes.

Johnson also won from the pole at Kansas in 2008, and Jeff Gordon won the first two races at the track in 2001 and ‘02. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has five top-10 finishes on the 1½-mile oval and is currently third in points, while Kasey Kahne is coming off a Trucks series win at Rockingham.

No owner has more wins at Kansas Speedway than Hendrick.

“We know our teams are all capable of winning races. We’ve all been there,” Johnson said Friday. “Whenever it happens, you’ll see a very big sigh of relief from Rick and the team.”

It’s not as though Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t been competitive.

To the contrary: It has been frustratingly close.

Hendrick’s stable has finished second four times since Johnson’s victory during last season’s Chase, including his second-place run last Saturday night at Texas.

Johnson is confident a win will happen soon.

This is a team, after all, that won five consecutive championships with Johnson, and had claimed five more before that between Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte, who won the title in 1996.

Johnson and Gordon combined for five wins last season, and Johnson won six alone in 2010.

The last time the team went through such doldrums, it went 15 consecutive races without a victory, a stretch that began after Gordon won the 2002 race at Kansas Speedway.



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