Rick Hendrick — Whatever It Takes To Win

If there was ever any doubt as to the reason and the goal in the changes announced at Hendrick Motorsports yesterday afternoon, Rick Hendrick put them to bed today. His goal and the goal of everyone at HMS is to be the very best. Being the very best sometimes means that one must give up the comfort of the usual for the uncertainty of what is best. Mr. Hendrick stated that despite Jimmie Johnson winning the championship, the team as a whole was not where they wanted or needed to be during the 2011 season. He stated that they had gotten behind in their development of the car and then the wing to the spoiler change left them 6 to 8 weeks further behind. “It’s the nature of this business if you stub your toe or falter; the competition is all over you. The spoiler change benefited some of the teams. It really hurt us.”

[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Hendrick was asked if the change was intended to help Dale Earnhardt Jr and in the process left Mark Martin holding the short end of the stick. He was emphatic in his answer that he had made a commitment to Mark Martin and he could, “have all the stick he wanted.” He explained that the changes were made to benefit everyone on the team and that the change had actually been in the works since Texas. He reaffirmed his belief in Dale Jr saying, “I still believe that if we give him what he needs he can win races and championships. Our goal is to make that happen.”

He explained that the changes were made based on personalities of the drivers and crew chiefs involved. Giving the example that Lance McGrew and Mark Martin were both very technically oriented so that they spoke the same language. With the help of Chris Heroy, who was the team engineer for Martin in 2009, he felt that this combination would benefit not only Mark but the entire organization.

Jeff and Alan Gustafson had the same laid back type of personality. Gustafson, he commented “doesn’t say much but he does what it takes to get the job done, much like Gordon.”

Letarte he said already had a relationship with Dale Jr. “Steve and Tony Jr are best friends and Steve actually brought Tony Jr in for the first tour.” He commented that several times Letarte had brought to his attention things with Dale that when corrected or implemented brought about a favorable change almost immediately. Letarte he noted had made the chase all but one year since becoming a crew chief and had been in the heat of competition every year. It was his opinion that being in the shop with Chad and Jimmie would help Dale Jr to regain his confidence which he felt had been damaged early on.

He did clarify the exchanges by saying that “only the drivers seats, numbers and sponsors changed” the teams would remain as they were. Including pit crews which in the case of the 24 and 48 had reverted back to their original crew chiefs. He did say however, that there would be “new faces in new places” in some cases. It is well known that HMS crew members are not guaranteed a pit crew spot from year to year and audition for those jobs, thus it will not be surprising to find new members on pit crews across the board at HMS.

When asked about the rumor that Ron Malec, car chief for the 48 was going to be moved into a crew chief position, Mr. Hendrick stated, that Ron was comfortable and content where he was, and that there was never any intention on the part of Hendrick Motorsports to move Malec into a crew chief position with anyone. If and when Ron was ready to move up the ladder certainly that opportunity would be made available to him within the organization.

He also addressed the Kasey Kahne/Kenny Francis situation stating that he felt that Jeff and Kasey would be great team mates and that Kenny Francis and Alan Gustafson would work well together.

Rick Hendrick stated that when this was announced yesterday at the shops it was intended to rekindle the competitive spark in the teams as well as in the drivers and crew chiefs. It was not announced previously to them although all involved had been asked what they felt would help the organization as a whole. He was pleased that for the first time, his announcement was not scooped by the press but was in fact a surprise to all. When asked what the drivers responses were he stated, “They are all team players and want to do what it takes to win and be competing for championships.”

A little background on the three crew chiefs involved in switch finds that Alan Gustafson has been involved in racing since age 8, turning wrenches on Casey Yunicks go karts. He is a mechanical engineer who has been with HMS for 11 years and has held positions all over the company including chassis engineer, shock specialist and lead engineer for the 5 car then driven by series champion Terry Labonte. Gustafson has worked with Kyle Busch, Terry Labonte, and Mark Martin. He is regarded highly with in the garage area as one of the most gifted crew chiefs in the business.

Steve Letarte has been with HMS for 16 years and is a Ray Evernham protégé. He has held the positions of Car Chief, tire specialist and mechanic within the organization. Since becoming a crew chief, Letarte has only missed the chase one year. His worse chase finish was 7th and his best was 2nd in 2007 with two years in the 3rd spot. Known for being a people person, Letarte’s communication and motivational skills make him a huge asset on any team.

Lance McGrew has been with HMS for 12 years. He has an extensive background in the NWS/BGN levels of competition. He also served as Ricky Hendrick’s crew chief in the then Craftsmen Truck Series. He has won in the NWS with Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. He has one Sprint Cup win with Mark Martin in 2009. Mainly the research and development guru, McGrew helped develop the Impala SS for HMS and served as crew chief for its R&D team. In 2009 he became interim then permanent crew chief on the #88 driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. McGrew is known for his technical expertise in the field of Research and Development.

Within the massive resource center that is Hendrick Motorsports exists the fire and the drive to be the champion. Each of the four teams works diligently to try and make that champion their team. But the big picture is never out of view. The championship stays at Hendrick Motorsports regardless of what that takes. Every member of every team knows that is the goal. The celebration will be no bigger for one bringing it home than another. Every member of the team whether driver or crew chief or mechanic is aware that the needs of the team as a whole out weigh the needs of the single team within the whole, it is that philosophy that has brought no less than 13 championships home to HMS. It is that philosophy that will continue to make HMS a dominant force for years to come.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com


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