Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports championship notes

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Jimmie Johnson is a seven-time NASCAR champion. Rick Hendrick is now the owner of 12 championship titles.

Per Hendrick Motorsports, here are some championship nuggets:

  • Jimmie Johnson earned a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship with his first-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He joined NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty as the only drivers in history to win seven Cup titles and became the first driver to do it since Earnhardt in 1994. Johnson’s former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon ranks fourth all-time with four Cup championships.
  • Johnson’s title is the 12th for Hendrick Motorsports and car owner Rick Hendrick, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January. Hendrick is the all-time leader in Sprint Cup owner championships (12) and along with Joe Gibbs are the only owners to win titles with three different drivers: Johnson (7), Gordon (4) and Terry Labonte for Hendrick and Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart (2) and Kyle Busch for Gibbs. Hendrick has 245 Cup-level race wins as an owner, ranking second all-time and first in NASCAR’s modern era.
  • The 2016 Sprint Cup car owner championship is the 15th for Hendrick Motorsports across NASCAR’s three national series, extending the team’s all-time record. Richard Childress Racing ranks second among owners with 12 combined titles. In the car owner category, Hendrick Motorsports has won 12 titles in the Sprint Cup Series and three in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Hendrick Motorsports also won a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship in 2003, giving the organization 16 total national series titles.
  • Lowe’s has been the No. 48 team’s primary sponsor since its inception in 2001. Lowe’s has also been Johnson’s only primary sponsor in his 15 full seasons (2002-2016), encompassing all seven Sprint Cup championships, 80 race victories and numerous milestones, including two wins in the Daytona 500 and four in the Brickyard 400. Hendrick Motorsports’ relationship with Lowe’s is one of the longest-running driver-team-sponsor partnerships in NASCAR history.
  • With seven career Sprint Cup championships, crew chief Chad Knaus ranks second all-time behind only NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Inman, who earned eight Cup titles as a crew chief. Knaus is now one of only two crew chiefs (the other being Inman) to win seven titles with one team and driver, and he holds the distinction of being the only crew chief to win more than two Cup titles in a row, a feat he accomplished when he coached the No. 48 team to five straight from 2006-2010.
  • Knaus has led the No. 48 team since Johnson’s 2002 rookie year in the Sprint Cup Series. In that 15-season span, he and Johnson have won seven titles and posted an average finish of 3.4 in the championship standings.
  • Johnson began using the hashtag #se7en as a tribute to Ricky Hendrick, the late son of car owner Rick Hendrick. Early in his racing career, Ricky Hendrick drove a No. 7 car and later a No. 17, and he developed a habit of writing out the number with a “7” in place of the letter “V.”
  • At 41 years old, Johnson is the youngest driver to win seven Sprint Cup championships. Petty earned his seventh title in 1979 at age 42, a little more than two months after Johnson was born. Earnhardt was 44 when he won his seventh title in 1994.
  • Johnson’s seventh championship came 10 seasons after his first title win (2006). That marks the shortest period of time between the first and seventh title in history. Petty’s final championship came in 1979, 15 seasons after his first title win (1964), and Earnhardt earned his seventh championship in 1994, 14 seasons after his first (1980).
  • Hendrick Motorsports has tallied 245 victories in 33 seasons, a figure that leads all teams in NASCAR’s modern era and ranks second all-time behind Petty Enterprises (268 wins). This season, Hendrick Motorsports posted five victories (all by Jimmie Johnson). Hendrick Motorsports has been with manufacturer Chevrolet since its inaugural season in 1984.
  • In the major American professional sports leagues, Hendrick Motorsports’ 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships are seventh all-time behind the New York Yankees (27 World Series titles), Montreal Canadiens (24 Stanley Cup titles), Boston Celtics (17 NBA titles), Los Angeles Lakers (16 NBA titles), Toronto Maple Leafs (13 Stanley Cup titles) and Green Bay Packers (13 NFL championships).
  • Hendrick Motorsports is the most efficient championship team in major American professional sports, earning 12 titles since its inception in 1984 for a 36.4 percent all-time title-winning percentage. The Boston Celtics rank second with 17 NBA titles in 70 seasons (24.3 percent), while the New York Yankees rank third with 27 World Series championships in 116 seasons (23.3 percent). The Los Angeles Lakers rank fourth with 16 NBA titles in 69 seasons (23.2 percent) and the Montreal Canadiens are fifth with 24 Stanley Cup titles in 107 seasons (22.4 percent). Hendrick Motorsports has won 12 of the last 22 Sprint Cup championships (1995-2016), putting the team’s title-winning percentage during that span at 54.5.
  • No other major American professional sports team has earned more championships than Hendrick Motorsports since 1984, the organization’s inaugural season. In that time, the Los Angeles Lakers have earned eight NBA championships and the Chicago Bulls have recorded six. The New York Yankees, San Antonio Spurs and Edmonton Oilers have tallied five titles apiece since 1984.
  • Along with Johnson and Knaus, car chief Ron Malec has been on the No. 48 Lowe’s team road crew for all seven championships. Malec started working as a mechanic with Johnson in the ASA Series in the late 1990s. When Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports, Malec came on board. As car chief, he manages the crew members who work on the car both at the team facility in Concord, North Carolina, and during each race weekend. He is responsible for the preparation of the race car and seeing it through technical inspection.
  • Prior to Johnson’s run of five consecutive Sprint Cup titles from 2006-2010, Hendrick Motorsports scored four in a row from 1995-1998 with Gordon (1995, 1997 and 1998) and Labonte (1996). No other organization has won more than three Sprint Cup championships in consecutive seasons.
  • Hendrick Motorsports has never run a Sprint Cup season without winning a pole position, recording at least one for 33 consecutive years (1984-2016). The team scored four in 2016, including one from Johnson, one from substitute driver Alex Bowman and two from Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Chase Elliott.
  • Hendrick Motorsports has posted at least one Cup-level win in 31 straight seasons, the longest active streak in NASCAR. The streak began Feb. 16, 1986, when Geoff Bodine won Hendrick Motorsports’ first Daytona 500.
  • In 2016, Hendrick Motorsports amassed five wins, four pole positions, 28 top-five finishes, 56 top-10s and 1,355 laps led. The five wins came at five different tracks — Atlanta, Fontana, Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead. The win at Martinsville propelled Johnson to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he won the organization’s 12th Sprint Cup Series championship.

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Clint Bowyer looks to be relevant again

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 19:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Chevrolet, sits in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, 2016 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer can be loud, wild and ready for the next good time, but after a season that felt as arduous as Odysseus’ journey, Bowyer’s voice softens when he states a goal for this season.

“I sure hope you are watching me,’’ Bowyer said as he stood next to his No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. “At the end of the day, relevancy in this sport is everything, and I’ve lost that a little bit. Not a little bit. A lot.’’

Four years after finishing runner-up in the championship, Bowyer could barely finish in the top 20 in races last year for HScott Motorsports, a team no longer competing in NASCAR.

It was a stunning fall for driver who seemed on solid ground after he signed a three-year contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing in May 2014, following back-to-back finishes in the top 10 in points.

Fourteen months later, though, Michael Waltrip Racing announced it would cease operations after the season.

Clint Bowyer will drive the No. 14 car for Stewart-Haas Racing this season. (Stewart-Haas Racing)
Clint Bowyer will drive the No. 14 car for Stewart-Haas Racing this season. (Stewart-Haas Racing)

A month after that, Bowyer signed to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, replacing Tony Stewart in 2017. That left Bowyer without a ride for 2016. With few options, Bowyer went to HScott Motorsports and suffered through a season that saw him record three top-20 finishes in the last 19 races.

“Was it the best thing in the world for me?’’ Bowyer said of last season. “Probably not. It probably wasn’t healthy as a matter of fact, but, nonetheless, this deal was worth it. This opportunity was worth whatever you had to go through, whether it was sitting at home or getting into something. It didn’t matter, I signed on for this thing. I want to be in this car because I knew it was my soonest opportunity to be in the best possible situation to win races.’’

But it has been four years since he last won, a span of 149 races.

He was asked Wednesday at the Ford Performance Technical Center if he is any good still.

“That’s a real legitimate question,’’ Bowyer said. “You just don’t know. I think the last time I was in a good car, I was good. I think that I’m a smarter driver than I was three years ago. I think I’m plenty capable of winning races. I love what I see at Stewart-Haas.’’

His team was set up for him. Mike Bugarewicz gained experience last year in his rookie season as a crew chief for Stewart. That should help Bugarewicz in the transition to his new driver. Bowyer and Bugarewicz started talking weekly in the second half of last season, discussing what setups Bowyer liked, track conditions, tires, etc. Anything to learn each other and help their communication this season.

“For me, that driver/crew chief relationship is everything and you’ve got to get that established,’’ Bowyer said.

Bowyer also can lean on some familiar faces at Stewart-Haas Racing. He was a teammate to Kevin Harvick at Richard Childress Racing. Bowyer was at Michael Waltrip Racing when Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers was there. Billy Scott, crew chief for Danica Patrick, was Bowyer’s crew chief, for part of the 2015 season.

About the only person he doesn’t know well at SHR is Kurt Busch.

“We just never really hung out,’’ Bowyer said of the 2004 champion. “He’s the one guy that I really think has more raw talent than about anybody out there. I want to go out and learn as much as I can. I know he can really diagnose what’s going on with the car. The depth he goes in with the debrief is probably a lot higher than I’ve had in the past.’’

That’s just part of the culture at Stewart-Haas Racing that has Bowyer excited.

“They don’t take second as an option,’’ Bowyer said. “They go and work hard and figure out how to go win these races.’’

No longer does he have to worry about finishing 25th (his average finish last year was 23.6).

“With equipment like this, if you’re 25th or something at the end of the day … there’s a reason for it,’’ Bowyer said. “That’s the breath of fresh air. It’s not expected. It’s not going to happen.’’

Told that Stewart sees Bowyer as calmer, the 37-year-old replies that he’s “confident again.

“When 2016 finally came to an end, I was looking at Dale (Earnhardt) Jr and Amy having a good time (at their New Year’s Eve wedding), and I’m like I can’t wait for tomorrow morning,’’ Bowyer said. “Just get all that brushed off, get it behind you and … focus on the task at the hand and using this wonderful opportunity to be good and great again.’’

And relevant.

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Ford executive encouraged by changes at Roush Fenway Racing

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 12: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Roush Performance Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 12, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C. — The Global Director of Ford Performance says he’s optimistic Roush Fenway Racing will be more competitive this season because of leadership changes that “embrace becoming more of an engineering-led organization.’’

Roush Fenway Racing has been shut out of NASCAR’s playoffs each of the past two seasons and last won a race in 2014.

Ford’s Dave Pericak said Wednesday at the Ford Performance Technical Center that Roush Fenway Racing is in a better position to take advantage of Ford’s technical support after offseason changes.

“I think Roush has made all of the right, now, decisions and changes within their organization to truly embrace becoming more of an engineering-led organization and putting the technology into these cars as opposed to just bolting some stuff together and going out on the racetrack,’’ Pericak told NBC Sports.

“I think there has been a huge acknowledgement on their side that there has to be a shift within their own organization, a shift within their leadership. We’ve helped them on a technical side of things to get their equipment up to speed. I’m optimistic that this year you’re going to see all of that coming together and you should see better performance out of that Roush organization.’’

Roush Fenway Racing opens the season with new personnel in executive levels. The team announced in late November that Kevin Kidd, who had been the organization’s Cup team manager, would become the competition director, and Tommy Wheeler, who oversaw the production of the organization’s Cup and Xfinity cars, would be the team’s operations director. The team also announced that Robbie Reiser, who had been general manager, was being reassigned.

The organization also is smaller this season. Roush downsized to a two-car operation with the departure of Greg Biffle. The team will have Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne as drivers and loaned Chris Buescher to JTG Daugherty, a Chevrolet team, because there wasn’t a proper place to put him with a Ford team this year.

Stenhouse showed signs of progress early last season, climbing to 13th the points after the season’s fifth race before finishing the year 21st. Bayne placed 22nd and Biffle 23rd. The three drivers combined for zero wins, seven top-five and 14 top-10 finishes.

The top-five and top-10 results were an increase from the 2015 season. Roush’s drivers combined for four top fives and nine top 10s that season.

Roush is one of two Ford teams downsizing this year. Richard Petty Motorsports will field one entry this year instead of two. Pericak said such moves could help both teams.

“The downsizing that you’ve seen is a way for us to re-focus those teams and get back to the fundamentals and get them back on the right path,” Pericak said. “You don’t want to have so much going on that you can’t focus in areas that you need to focus and fix what you need.’’

Something else that could help Roush and RPM is the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing to the Ford camp. The move gives Ford two top-tier teams in SHR and Team Penske. Some of the information gleaned by those teams can be shared.

“I think when you look at that, it’s a very positive thing to bring that level of competition to your group, everyone is going to benefit from that,’’ Pericak said. “And the other thing we’ve been working strongly on is that one Ford approach, sharing where sharing makes sense.’’

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New Cup team to field Daytona 500 entry

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Gaunt Brothers Racing plans to enter all four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series restrictor-plate races this season, beginning with the Daytona 500.

D.J. Kennington will seek for the qualify for the season-opening race. The team has no charter and is not guaranteed a starting spot.

Other non-chartered teams that have announced plans to vie for a Daytona 500 starting spot are: Tommy Baldwin Racing (Elliott Sadler) and car owner Mark Beard (Brendan Gaughan). Michael Waltrip also has stated on Twitter he will compete but has not offered any other details.

Gaunt Brothers Racing is owned by Marty Gaunt, president of Triad Racing Technologies.

“With the recent unveiling of the 2018 Toyota Camry, we feel that now is the right time to return to the racetrack,” said Gaunt, whose Triad engines powered five championship-winning Toyota drivers and contributed to multiple manufacturer championships at the NASCAR national level, in a statement.

The team competed in what is now the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in 2011. Gaunt Brothers Racing is fielding a Toyota Camry in partnership with Triad client RAB Racing, which is led by Robby Benton. RAB Racing will supply cars, shop space and technical support.

“Our aspirations will be no small task, but we know what we need to do to position ourselves to make this a successful effort,” Benton said in a statement. “We’ll transition over to the Daytona 500 after competing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona with our sports car program later this month.”

Kennington, who is from St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, is a two-time NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion. He made his Cup debut last fall at Phoenix International Raceway, placing 35th.

No driver has been announced for the team at the other three restrictor-plate races this season.

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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 59: David Smith previewing the 2017 season

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 20:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 and the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2016 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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The makeup of a race weekend in 2017 is expected to look different, with some major enhancements expected to be announced soon for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

But the teams that will compete on the rebranded circuit will look very familiar.

While a NASCAR offseason normally is filled with personnel changes, many teams elected to stand pat for this season.

Why? That’s a topic explored by Motorsports Analytics founder David Smith in a recent column entitled “Welcome to 2016, Part 2, which was the subject of this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast.

Smith discussed the reasons why teams didn’t make changes and the reasons that perhaps some should have. He also floats some interesting possibilities for future moves (Chase Elliott and Chad Knaus? Cole Pearn to Team Penske?).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Stay tuned for time codes for easy referencing while listening to the podcast.