MIAMI, FL (November 8, 2001) - The expectations for Ricky Hendrick were high at the beginning of the 2001 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season. At the end of the campaign, it's safe to say most of the expectations had been met for the driver of the No. 17 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet Silverado. "Overall it has been a great year," said the 21-year old Charlotte, NC native. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and set our goals pretty high, we certainly learned a lot this year and that was the most important thing. We were a new team and I was a new driver. We worked hard together and I am so proud to be part of this team."
Hendrick, the son of NASCAR Winston Cup championship team owner Rick Hendrick, showed he would be a contender all year in the NCTS season-opening event at Daytona nearly pulling off the win at the 'World's Center of Speed.' Hendrick battled Scott Riggs and Joe Ruttman for the win over the last two laps settling for a second-place finish at the checkered flag.
"We had a shot at Ruttman," said Hendrick of the eventual Daytona winner. " I was hoping Riggs would stay behind me off of Turn 4 and we could have the momentum to come down on Ruttman and get the win. It was every man for himself on the last lap. Riggs made his move on Turn 3, I made my move on Turn 4. We didn't get Joe and luckily, we held on to second."
Hendrick rode the wave of the strong Daytona finish to score an impressive five straight Top-10 finishes - Daytona, Homestead (FL), Bakersfield (CA), Martinsville (VA) and St. Louis (MO) - to open the season.
"We were feeling pretty lucky," said Hendrick. "We were staying out of trouble and getting some really good set-ups. Those short tracks were a real challenge. Our goal there was simply to survive, but we finished both Bakersfield and Martinsville in the Top-10. We couldn't have asked for a better start to our season."
The inaugural race at Darlington (SC) Raceway proved to be a turn of fortune and one of Hendrick's most disappointing finishes of the season. Collected in an accident not of his making. Hendrick's damaged red-white and blue GMAC Chevy spent 80 laps in the garage before returning to the track for a season worst finish of 34th -place.
"We got caught up with a lap car that spun us around," said Hendrick of the Lap 39 incident that eliminated him from competition. "After the right rear tire blew out the truck didn't look that bad, but it was a little bit worse than what it appeared. I just hate it because we were running third and running strong at the time. I think we would have finished in the Top-3. It's just one of those deals that is part of racing. It's not the first time and it definitely won't be the last."
Hendrick and Team GMAC got back on track in a big way after the Darlington downturn with eight straight Top-10 finishes. The crowning jewel of the string of top efforts came at the inaugural race a Kansas Speedway where Hendrick took the lead on Lap 144 and never looked back in scoring his first-ever NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win. The victory in the inaugural O'Reilly 200 at Kansas Speedway established an NCTS record for Hendrick making him the youngest driver to win a race in the division.
"There is nothing like your fist win," said Hendrick. "GMAC, Hendrick Motorsports and these guys are the most amazing group. I would be nothing without them. Once we took the lead, I just kept hoping that there wouldn't be another caution. I wanted to keep going. We were blessed today and everything came together. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life."
At the halfway mark of the 2001 NCTS campaign, Hendrick and Team GMAC had their sights squarely set on their season goals.
"Winning in Kansas City was phenomenal," said Hendrick as the series rounded the turn and headed into the final 12 races. "We are halfway through the season and exactly where we wanted to be. We are in the Top-5 in points, we are the top rookie, and now we have won a race. I truly couldn't ask for anything more in my first season. Winning one race has only fueled the fire." Hendrick's run of Top-10 finishes continued at Kentucky and New Hampshire. That streak came to a grinding halt at Indianapolis (18th) while the team continued to struggle with 11th-place finishes at Nashville (TN) and Chicago (IL). "We had three tough races at Indianapolis, Nashville and Chicago," said Hendrick. "We finished out of the Top-10 and that hurt us. We know we are so much better than that."
The next five races had the GMAC Chevrolet Silverado running true to form as Hendrick finished eighth at Richmond (VA) and sixth at South Boston (VA). South Boston, the all-challenging .4-mile track, left a big impression on the young driver.
"South Boston is short track racing at it's best," said Hendrick. "The race was everything we thought it would be - beating, banging and big wrecks. Short track racing is tough. I know we should have wrecked at least eight times out there. It's tough on the drivers because this track is a narrow one-track groove. There are no tricks to this track and we survived with another Top-10 finish. That's a good night."
Hendrick continued his Top-10 quest with 's continued with and eighth-place finish Texas Motor Speedway before a sixth-place effort followed at Las Vegas, NV.
"There was some rough racing out there today," said Hendrick of the 'Vegas clash. "There could have been some big wrecks. Some people were racing hard against people who are fighting the championship points battle. Rick Crawford and I were really going at it. We were racing close, neither one of us gave the other anything. We are learning every week and overall, it was a good day. We raced hard and did what we could on the racetrack. At times The GMAC Chevy was the fastest truck on the track. We just wanted more than sixth-place." With just two races remaining in the 2001 NCTS season, Team GMAC knew there was still work to be done as they hung on to hopes of fifth-place in the championship points and the Top spot in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year competition.
At Phoenix, Hendrick saw both goals vanish in a heap of crumpled sheetmetal as a Lap 21 tangle with Loni Richardson sent the GMAC Financial Services Silverado behind the wall for only the second time all season.
"We had a really good truck for the Phoenix race," said Hendrick. "We knew what we needed to do and we were ready to do it. Unfortunately, we ended the day with a very disappointing finish. We worked so hard to get our truck up to par, but we didn't qualify well and we got tangled up in a wreck in the back in the pack. After that, we just couldn't do any more than 28th-place."
Hendrick closed out the season with a solid 10th-place finish at California Speedway. The finish put Hendrick in the NCTS record books for the most Top-10 finishes by a rookie (19) in a single season. "It's really cool to hold the record for the most Top-10's," said Hendrick. "I was hoping to win another race today too, but it just wasn't in the cards. We just couldn't turn. We were really fast through the straight-aways, but we just couldn't turn."
In the end, Hendrick finished sixth in the final standings and second in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.
"We were here to learn this season," stated Hendrick in assessing his season. "That is exactly what we did. We had a lot of ups and downs. Clearly our win at Kansas was the best thing that happened . The worst experience we had were the wrecks at Darlington and Phoenix. If we could have had those two races back, there's no doubt we would have finished in the Top-5 in points. I'll never forget my rookie year in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The experience we gained was invaluable and certain to be a big help to me as my career moves forward in the future."
<pre> RICKY HENDRICK/GMAC FINANCIAL SERVICES CHEVROLET 2001 NCTS RACE RESULTS - FINAL
DATE TRACK ST FIN LAPS/TOTAL $ REASON COMP/LAPS
Feb. 16 Daytona International Speedway 5 2 100/100 52,510 Running Mar. 4 Homestead-Miami Speedway 2 5 167/167 14,425 Running Mar. 17 Mesa Marin Raceway 20 8 250/250 8,250 Running Apr. 7 Martinsville Speedway 19 9 250/250 7,550 Running May 6 Gateway International Raceway 9 6 160/160 14,025 Running May 12 Darlington International Raceway 2 34 47/135 5,790 Rear end May 20 Pikes Peak International Raceway 9 5 204/204 13,450 Running June 1 Dover Downs International 3 3 200/200 23,365 Running June 8 Texas Motor Speedway 6 5 167/167 15,475 Running June 23 Memphis Motorsports Park 12 7 200/200 11,275 Running June 30 Milwaukee Mile 6 10 200/200 10,925 Running July 7 Kansas City Speedway 2 1 167/167 40,885 Running July 14 Kentucky Speedway 2 6 150/150 18,000 Running July 21 New Hampshire Int. Speedway 13 4 200/200 16,175 Running Aug. 3 Indianapolis Raceway Park 18 18 199/200 8,640 Running Aug. 10 Nashville Speedway USA 9 11 148/150 7,625 Running Aug. 18 Chicago Motor Speedway 9 11 175/175 10,275 Running Aug 26 Nazareth Speedway 6 5 199/200 13,700 Running Sept. 6 Richmond International Raceway 11 8 199/200 8,700 Running Sept. 28 South Boston Raceway 6 6 250/250 9,325 Running Oct. 5 Texas Motor Speedway 3 8 146/146 9,995 Running Oct. 14 Las Vegas Speedway 7 6 146/146 10,500 Running Oct. 26 Phoenix International Raceway 14 28 139/159 7,090 Running Nov. 3 California Speedway 13 10 100/100 12,775 Running
TOTALS AVE AVE LAPS/TOTAL TOTAL ST FIN COMP/LAPS $ 8 9 4159/4272 350,365
POINTS: 3412 (Sixth overall in final standings) RACES WON: 1 POLE POSITIONS: 0 TIMES LED: 10 TOP-5 FINISHES: 8 TOP-10 FINISHES: 19 (NCTS Rookie Record)