Hendrick Motorsports official says of team’s qualifying at Dover: ‘We’re not happy’

7 Comments

They’re words not often associated with Hendrick Motorsports, but a team official used “depressing’’ and “frustrated” after the organization failed to place any of its cars in the final round of qualifying Friday at Dover International Speedway for the second week in a row.

Until last week’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports had had at least one of its cars make the final 12 in qualifying since Sonoma last June.

Jimmie Johnson qualified 14th Friday with Dale Earnhardt Jr. 16th, Jeff Gordon 22nd and Kasey Kahne 25th.

“We’re not happy,’’ Ken Howes, vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports told NASCAR Talk. “We weren’t happy after Charlotte, and we haven’t been able to figure it out this week, so we’re not happy again.’’

What baffled the team is that Johnson was the fastest in Friday’s practice session and Earnhardt was third.

“Two of our cars were good this morning in the shade and we obviously couldn’t adjust, think quickly enough when the sun came out,’’ Howes said. “Didn’t do a good job.’’

This is only the second time since 2009 that Johnson – the all-time winningest driver at Dover – has started worse than 12th at this track. Gordon’s qualifying effort marked his second worst starting spot at Dover since the Sept. 2009 race. This is Kahne’s worst qualifying spot at this track since starting 36th in the Sept. 2008 race at this track.

Earlier Friday, Gordon said that at some tracks Hendrick Motorsports’ cars are not producing as much downforce as others and might also be down on horsepower.

It wasn’t just Hendrick cars that had issues. Stewart-Haas Racing, which gets chassis and engines from Hendrick Motorsports, had only one of its four cars reach the final round of qualifying. Kevin Harvick will start sixth.

“We have a good gauge in the garage because we have engines in other cars and chassis with other teams, so there’s a lot of knowledge out there,’’ Howes said. “We’re just not up to the task at the moment.

“It’s depressing when things don’t work out. There’s a lot of hard working people putting their heart and soul into it. When you get beat it’s arrrgghhh.’’

While Hendrick struggled, Joe Gibbs Racing placed all four of its cars in the top 10 with Denny Hamlin winning the pole for the FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks.

“Everything is always relative,” Howes said. “Did we slow up or did other people get better? We could have a long conversation about that. You’ve got to give credit to the Toyota teams. They apparently are better now than they were at the start of the year. Their performance curve, maybe, is they’ve got ahead of us right now. They were not happy about being down and now we’re not happy.’’

This comes after all five of Hendrick’s cars – Chase Elliott also drove – failed to make the final round of qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 last week. Only one Hendrick driver (Earnhardt) finished in the top 10 in that race. He used a fuel gamble to place third.

Howes described Friday’s struggles as  “frustration in capital letters. We’ll be frustrated until midnight and then we’ve got to reset.’’