It’s impossible to ignore the resurgence of Hendrick Motorsports in the past month, especially since the team has three wins in the past five races and Jimmie Johnson has led the most laps in two of them.
At the same time, many have also noticed something strange with the rear axles in their cars.
“There are parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that make the car more competitive,” Brad Keselowski said. “Some guys have it; some guys don’t. There’s a question to the interpretation of the rule. Penske Racing errs on the safe side because we don’t want to be the guys that get the big penalty.”
NASCAR mandated new rules for the rear axle housing in June that limits how much the rear tires can be tilted to create more traction. The sanctioning body also put restrictions on how the rear axle is installed.
Some believe the Hendrick teams have figured a way to get around the new rules.
“All the Hendrick cars have more yaw than the whole field,” Kevin Harvick said. “They have got the garage scrambling a little bit right now to try and figure out how to achieve exactly what they are doing.”
Teams never stop looking for an advantage. And once they find one, it doesn’t take long for everyone else to figure it out, too.
In 1991, Harry Gant’s team figured out a way to lean the right-rear tire out so it would have better grip in the corners, and that helped Gant win four consecutive races. Other teams quickly tried the same thing, which led to a rash of rear axle failures and fires. NASCAR eventually limited how far a tire can be toed in or out.
The moving rear ends at Hendrick apparently have accomplished the same thing as Gant’s old setup. Some wonder if it’s legal.
“It’s living in the gray area,” Keselowski said. “That’s something that we have to continue to evaluate every week that goes by, that those components are permitted to run. We have to make a re-evaluation of that internally to decide if that’s the right way to go.”
Other teams already are working hard to catch up.
Roush Fenway Racing has developed its own rear end. While it still isn’t as fast as Hendrick’s – Johnson easily pulled away from Greg Biffle at the end of last Sunday’s race at Michigan International Raceway – it has helped close the gap.
Biffle wound up winning at Michigan after Johnson’s engine blew up with six laps to go. Keselowski finished second.
“It took us awhile to figure out what they were doing but we’ve been working at it and have assurance from NASCAR that it is OK and within the rules and not the reason that we were able to win today,” car owner Jack Roush said. “It certainly is hard to win if you don’t have a competitive aero package and chassis mechanical grip package.”
“Creatively, the guys are really smart and they are coming up with some things that are making our cars stand out and do the things balance-wise that we are looking for,” said Jeff Gordon, one of Hendrick’s four drivers.
“I don’t think we’re head and shoulders above anybody. I just think that we’ve got things that are working well for us.”