Hendrick not living up to its own lofty expectations

Motorsport.com spoke exclusively with Hendrick Motorsport's executive vice president Doug Duchardt.

Having two teams locked in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a solid chance at a third and an outside shot at a fourth would probably be good news for most NASCAR organizations.

But look a little deeper into Hendrick Motorsports’ situation and you can see a cause for worry.

Struggling to contend for wins

The last win by a Hendrick driver came July 5 at Daytona International Speedway. Since then, the four HMS drivers – Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne – have not only failed to win a race, as a group they have led a collective five laps of competition.

In this sport we have cycles – last year we were in the middle of a strong summer – and there’s ebbs and flows ... We’ve been through this before

HMS executive vice president Doug Duchardt

That’s five laps over six races, which includes a road course, 1-mile oval, the three-turn Pocono Raceway and three races with new aerodynamic rules packages (Kentucky, Indianapolis and Michigan).

“I feel like there have been opportunities there for us to win races but I would say that the last month has not met our expectations of how we hoped to perform,” Doug Duchardt, HMS’ executive vice president and general manager, told Motorsport.com.

“This company’s been through a lot before and we’re certainly not one to quit or give up and I’ll guarantee you that everyone has the bit between their teeth to improve and we’ve just got to get better to lead laps.

“We haven’t been leading laps and that’s not common for us, particularly at tracks where we’ve feel like we’ve been very good, like Indy and Pocono.”

Johnson was the top-performing driver at Indy, with a 15th-place finish and no HMS driver led a lap. At Pocono earlier this month, Gordon was the best HMS driver and led two (of 160) laps while finishing third.

We are missing some speed and we are working hard to try to find it. It’s very competitive out there

HMS executive vice president Doug Duchardt

“In this sport we have cycles – last year we were in the middle of a strong summer – and there’s ebbs and flows in the sport and you just have to stay together, be honest on where you’re at and work hard together on getting better,” Duchardt said.

“We’ve been through this before. We try to keep this lull in performance to a minimum and we’re working hard to get back to where we would like to be, which is winning races and running for the championship.”

Engine performance is not the issue

Typically, teams which tend not to run out front can trace at least some of their problem to the engine department.

Duchardt said that isn’t the case at HMS.

“From an engine performance standpoint, while we haven’t led laps, our engines have. I feel like our engine performance is adequate but we're always looking to get better,” he said.

Kevin Harvick led the most laps (75) at Indy and drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, which utilizes Hendrick engines. During the same six-race span, Harvick himself led 181 laps while together HMS’s four drivers led five.

In the last two weeks, both Earnhardt and Gordon have admitted that HMS as an organization is behind and needs to make improvement.

“We are missing some speed and we are working hard to try to find it. It’s very competitive out there,” Gordon said Friday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. “Some other organizations have gotten ahead of us.

“You don’t just find that overnight. It is certainly not from a lack of effort.”

Gordon and Kahne still not locked into Chase

Three races remain for Gordon and Kahne to earn wins and lock themselves into the Chase. Gordon is in a far better position to make the Chase on points should he not win. Kahne is currently on the outside looking in the 16-driver field.

“For the Nos. 24 and 5 teams, they have to, as a team and a driver, go out and run very good races and minimize their mistakes,” Duchardt said. “It’s anxious the next three weekends and we have to go perform to make sure that we’re in.”

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Article type Interview