Last fall at Kansas, Jimmie Johnson took the 199th win of Rick Hendrick’s long and storied career as a NASCAR owner. Heading out of Kansas after the track’s spring race last weekend, Hendrick is still looking for the next one—what should prove to be an immensely popular 200th victory.
It’s safe to say that this season simply hasn’t played out the way that Hendrick has wanted for any of his four drivers so far.
For the first time in five years, Johnson came into this season without a Sprint Cup to defend, and he started the season with a Daytona 500 to forget: crew chief Chad Knaus earned a 25-point penalty (later overturned) for illegal C-posts, and a second lap crash eliminated him from contention.
That stuck him with minus-23 points coming out of the weekend, making him the first driver to leave Daytona with negative points since Michael Waltrip in 2007.
Johnson has turned his season around, climbing to seventh in points, and he has four finishes of fourth or better. However, he lost his best chance to win at Texas when Greg Biffle passed him late in the race and he scraped the wall trying to run the Ford driver down.
Jeff Gordon’s Daytona 500 was also forgettable; about midway through the race, his engine let go. He’s had a rough go of things, as despite leading a lap in each of the first seven events, he still sits a meager 18th in points thanks to subpar finishes.
Hendrick had his best chance to win at Martinsville, where Gordon and Johnson dominated all day and battled for the victory in the closing laps. But a late-race caution led to a restart on which they were both spun out.
Meanwhile, new acquisition Kasey Kahne has had the season from hell, causing a needless early crash at Bristol and briefly ranking as low as 32nd in points. Kahne qualified for two poles, at Las Vegas and Martinsville, but still hasn’t led a lap. Two consecutive top 10s have him up to 26th in points, but it’s safe to say that Kahne won’t make the Chase unless he scores a handful of wins in the middle of the season to take a wild-card berth.
The lone bright spot has been Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ranks fourth in points. He hasn’t finished worse than 15th all season, finishing second at Daytona and taking consecutive third-place finishes at Fontana and Martinsville. But he still hasn’t won a Sprint Cup race in over three years.
Luckily for Hendrick, relief may be close at hand. At the next four tracks on the sprint cup schedule—Richmond, Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte—he’s taken a combined 50 wins. Thirty-three of those victories were at the hand of current Hendrick drivers: either Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson in all cases.
With Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. both knocking on the door, and Kahne and Gordon both looking for the spark to turn their seasons around, the next win for Hendrick Motorsports could occur any weekend. The only question is who will take it—and where.