Hendrick Motorsports - The Team To Beat At Talladega
According to the numbers, the balance of power has shifted in restrictor-plate racing, making Hendrick Motorsports the team to beat in the Aaron's 499 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway on April 29.
For several years, the numbers favored Dale Earnhardt Inc. From 2001 through 2004, DEI won 11 of the 16 restrictor-plate races at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway, including back-to-back victories in 2002 and 2003 by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Aaron's 499.
But the shift toward Hendrick Motorsports began in 2004, when Jeff Gordon broke Earnhardt's streak by winning the Aaron's 499. That was the first of four victories in the past six races at Talladega Superspeedway for Hendrick Motorsports.
Overall, Hendrick Motorsports has claimed victory in seven of the past 12 restrictor-plate races, including a sweep at Talladega Superspeedway in 2006 with Jimmie Johnson winning the Aaron's 499 in May and former Hendrick driver Brian Vickers taking the checkered flag at the UAW-Ford 500 in October.
What has caused this change? Not much, according to Gordon.
"Even when DEI was dominating, we were right there behind them or battling with them," Gordon said. "We've been strong for a while at restrictor-plate tracks. We just had to get a little bit better."
"So we put a lot of focus on it. It's all about where your focus is, and then going to work on it. We found a little bit in the engine and a little bit in the body, and there you go. That's all it takes to get a little bit better."
The origins of this improvement might have taken place at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 6, 2002. That was the day all four of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers - Gordon, Johnson, Terry Labonte and Joe Nemechek - dropped out with a broken valve spring in the engine and finished 37th or worse.
This showing coincided with the peak of DEI's dominance at restrictor-plate tracks, and it led to team owner Rick Hendrick improving his organization's plate program, according to Johnson.
"DEI had a period of time where they were real dominant, and Rick didn't like that. Our organization didn't like that," Johnson said. "So we put some things in place that have really stepped up the plate program and gotten us the results we've been after."
"To get the results that we've had in the last few plate races means a lot to Hendrick Motorsports. They've worked very hard to give us competitive cars. All that hard work is paying off, and we're happy for that."
As Gordon noted, he was not far off the pace while DEI was dominating plate racing. During a seven-race winless streak at Talladega Superspeedway from October 2000 through the 2003 season, Gordon still had five top-10 finishes and three top-fives at the track.
The problem for Hendrick Motorsports was that their other drivers weren't having much success at Talladega Superspeedway. Gordon said that has changed in recent years, with the emergence of defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points champion Jimmie Johnson and 2005 NEXTEL Cup Rookie of the Year Kyle Busch.
"For years I seemed to be the only Hendrick guy who was winning restrictor-plate races," Gordon said. "Once we got Jimmie comfortable and more experienced in drafting, he started winning. Kyle Busch is the same thing. He's young, and it just takes time to get the maturity and the experience and the patience to draft good. I think you'll see him really start to step up."
"Our restrictor-plate program is one of the best things we have going for us. Our engine program is as strong as it's ever been. The cars are there. You just have to know what you're doing with the drafting while you're out there (on the track) at Talladega."
Talladega Superspeedway welcomes fans back for another year of the most competitive racing on the NASCAR circuit! Get
your tickets now for Aaron's Dream Weekend, set for April 27 - 29, 2007, featuring the Aaron's 312 NASCAR Busch Series and Aaron's 499 NEXTEL Cup Series races. Friday, April 27 will feature The Birmingham News Qualifying for the NASCAR Busch Series. Saturday, April 28 will feature The Birmingham News Qualifying for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and the Aaron's 312 NASCAR Busch Series race. Then on Sunday, April 29, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers will compete in the Aaron's 499, the ninth race of the season. Kids age 11 and younger are admitted free of charge when accompanied by a ticketed adult on Friday and Saturday. Tickets are available by calling 1-877-Go2-DEGA (462-3342), logging onto www.racetickets.com,or visiting our ticket office race with, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, then 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Saturday and 7 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Sunday, CST. For our hearing impaired guests, please call TDD 1-866-ISC-TRAK (1-866-472-8725). You may also purchase tickets in person at Talladega Superspeedway's Ticket Office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. CDT, Monday - Friday.