Getty Images

Rick Hendrick wants Jeff Gordon ‘in my place’ when he steps away

1 Comment

In an interview for an Autoweek story detailing NASCAR teams and their plans for ownership succession, Rick Hendrick dropped news about who sees as being the future leader of Hendrick Motorsports.

Hendrick, 69, said his former driver, Jeff Gordon, would someday take charge of the team he started in 1984.

“That’s the way we’re going. Whenever I finally step away, it’ll be Jeff Gordon in my place,” Hendrick told Autoweek.

Gordon, 47, is already a long-time minority owner of the team, a result of a contract he signed in 1999.

But don’t expect Hendrick to give up the reigns soon.

“I love this and still enjoy it so much, and it’s tied to my automotive businesses,” Hendrick said. “My health is good, so I expect to be around for a long time.”

But it’s possible Gordon’s heart wouldn’t be into being sole owner of the race team he competed for from 1992 – 2016, or at least as the owner of his own team.

Gordon discussed the possibility of ownership on Tuesday during a Q&A related to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast, “The Dale Jr. Download.”

“I would not be an owner if it weren’t for Rick Hendrick and being there for such a long time and the contract that I signed that helped me be an equity owner,” Gordon said. “I want to be partners with Rick in the business. I certainly would never want to go out and do this on my own. Nor would I even be capable of (it).”

Gordon has a history of ownership outside Hendrick. He and his former crew chief, Ray Evernham, co-owned Gordon-Evernham Motorsports, an Xfinity Series team they fielded from 1999-2000.

Gordon went on to explain what keeps him from being more involved in Hendrick Motorsports: the state of the NASCAR business model.

“I’m always so interested in what’s happening from the business aspect,” Gordon said. “I’ve got to say, (Interim CEO and Chairman) Jim France and the France family and the involvement they have right now, (President) Steve Phelps. I’m seeing some momentum of some thing things, what’s happening with the (Race Team Alliance). There’s just some cool things that are happening and it all got started I think talking about Comcast coming in and buying NASCAR.

“Whether that was ever a reality or whatever was going to happen, what it’s generated is concerted efforts where people are coming together to try and take the sport to the next level from a business viability standpoint. That’s what I’m excited about. If it could do that, you would see me far more involved. But right now, if you look at the business model on paper, no, it doesn’t make sense. We’re lucky to have racing as more of a hobby and do it the level we do it because of our partners.”

 and on Facebook

NASCAR President Steve Phelps discusses multiple topics in media session

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR President Steve Phelps met with the media for about 40 minutes Sunday, answering various questions about the sport.

Here’s a synopsis of some of the topics he discussed:

On the transition in NASCAR’s leadership that includes Jim France as interim Chairman and CEO: “You have seen Jim France at all the races since Michigan. He goes to driver councils, (manufacturer) councils, team councils, Jim is involved in the business in a significant way.”

On the 2019 rules package: “The rules package was put in place because we want to have the most competitive racing that we can. We believe the 2019 rules package does exactly that. … We do believe that this racing, which today arguably is the best we’ve ever had, is going to get better. We have a promise to our fans and that promise is about close, competitive side-by-side racing and we believe this 2019 rules package will give us exactly that.”

On the inspection process: “We’re going to look at the inspection process. Will there be changes to it? There might be.”

On if Brian France be back as Chairman: “I can’t speak to whether Brian is coming back or not. I do know that Jim France is our Chairman and CEO. I do know that Jim France is incredibly involved in this sport.”

On trying to find new ownership of teams: “I think it comes back to making sure that owning a race team is something that is not a hobby. It is a business. You need to have people that love it. Roger Penske loves racing. We need to make sure we find that next Roger Penske, we find that next Jack Roush, we find that next Rick Hendrick.”

On what is realistic to expect on changes to the schedule: “I think everything is in play. We’ve heard from our fan base that they would like to see more short track racing, they want to see more road courses, they want to see less cookie-cutter tracks, whatever that means. We are looking with our broadcast partners and with our tracks and teams and drivers to get input on what each of them believes would be an idea schedule and then we’re obviously doing fan research as a part of it. Do I believe that everything is on the table? I do. Will we see a lot of the things that have been talked about? So more short tracks, more road courses, doubleheaders, mid-week racing, pulling the season forward, all those things would be in play. Don’t know what’s going to happen, but we are working diligently on what a 2020 schedule would be.”

On if IndyCar and NASCAR could race at the same track on the same weekend: I know that there are people that would like to see that. I think it would be a good show. We would have to figure out how that works.

On how NASCAR can bridge the gap so a driver who performs on track (such as Truck champion Brett Moffitt, who does not have a ride for 2019) can help such drivers with rides: “Listen, Brett Moffitt is obviously a very talented race car driver who has won more this year obviously than he’s ever won.  He has a bright future. What that future looks like, I don’t know.  What I do know is that we work with race teams from a revenue standpoint as much as we can. We also work with drivers to try to bridge driver opportunities. Are we always successful in getting a driver who wants to be driving in whatever series they want to drive in? No. But there are a lot of historical things that we have done to try to make sure that if a driver is interested in continuing that that driver has that opportunity.”

Click here for full transcript of Steve Phelps media session

Hendrick Motorsports reveals Jimmie Johnson’s sponsor for 2019-20

4 Comments

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Ally Financial will serve as the primary sponsor for seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s car for all 38 races in 2019 and 2020, Hendrick Motorsports announced Sunday on NBCSN.

Ally Financial, which will be on Johnson’s car for the 36 points races and two non-points races, replaces Lowe’s, which had been Johnson’s primary sponsor since his rookie season in 2002.

“This is a proud day for our entire organization,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “Ally has built a tremendous brand by putting the customer at the center of their decisions and doing things right. In the same way, Jimmie has always put people first and handled himself like a champion in every sense of the word. Ally’s full-season commitment makes a powerful statement about their enthusiasm for him, our program and the direction of our sport. It’s an unbelievable fit, and all of us are thrilled to launch what will be a long and successful partnership.”

Ally Financial is a leading digital financial services company. Ally’s full scope of financial services offerings includes its award-winning online bank, auto finance and insurance businesses, digital wealth management and online brokerage platform, mortgage-lending services, and Corporate Finance operation. 

“We are beyond thrilled to be in the fast lane with Jimmie Johnson, one of the most successful drivers in the history of NASCAR, and with Hendrick Motorsports, a premier organization in professional sports,” said Jeffrey Brown, CEO at Ally, in a statement. “Both share Ally’s passion for delivering results for our customers and for our communities, with a deep commitment to ‘do it right’ for the people who count on us most. We look forward to working with this extraordinary team to build a strong and successful relationship as Ally enters this exciting sport.”

Said Johnson, who is signed with Hendrick through the 2020 season, in a statement: “The opportunity to work with a partner like Ally is incredible. Their commitment to leading in both the workplace and the community is something that resonates with me in a big way. They’ve sent a strong message about how much they believe in me and in our team, and I will do my part to make sure it’s the best investment they’ve ever made. I’m ready to chase more history with Ally on board the ‘48.’”

Hendrick Motorsports states that this announcement is the organization’s 17th new partner or renewal this season. That list includes Axalta (renewal through 2022), Hertz (new partner through 2019), Hooters (renewal through 2021), Mountain Dew (renewal through 2020), NAPA Auto Parts (renewal through 2020), Nationwide (renewal through 2020), Club Car (new partner through 2020) and Valvoline (renewal through 2022).

 

 

Long: Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus end mirrors their beginning in subtleness

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. — Their beginning can be found on page 2C of the Dec. 11, 2001 edition of The Charlotte Observer.

Below a note that Ryan Newman would use the No. 12 for his rookie Winston Cup season and an item about Mark Martin’s new car chief at Roush Racing, was a small headline:

Knaus goes back to Hendrick.

The three-paragraph item stated that Chad Knaus would return to Hendrick Motorsports to be rookie Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief for the 2002 season.

Nearly 17 years — and seven championships — later, the announcement of the duo’s pending departure shocked NASCAR in the same understated way.

Even though such news would merit a formal press conference streamed online, this was a casual session. Reporters sat on a couch or comfy chairs. Johnson and Knaus walked in carrying drinks in paper coffee cups.

They sat beside each other inside a building on the Hendrick Motorsports campus that didn’t exist when they began working together and discussed why a partnership that produced a record-tying number of titles and 81 wins (Johnson won twice while Knaus was suspended by NASCAR in 2006) would not continue after this year.

The end did not come because of one thing or another in particular but over time. Yes, a 53-race winless streak contributed to it, a sign that a partnership that had been feared in the garage was beatable. While they had pondered separating in the past, now it made sense.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Johnson said. “It took time to make it and you go through the thoughts of seeing it end. Could we have finished together? Of course, we have batted around all the questions that you are asking, but at some point, you have to go with your gut and it just feels right.”

Knaus preferred to look back at what they’ve accomplished.

“Let’s be frank, whoever thought that this would have gone 17 years? My point is this, instead of reflecting on what is the unknown, reflect a little bit on what we accomplished,” he said. “And that is what I have really focused on. 

“We have done amazing things over the course of our career. It should not have stemmed the span that it did. That is very, very comforting to me, personally. You can try to twist it all you want and do that stuff, but that is not what it is about. There are great opportunities for both of us.”

Their responses reveal who they are. Johnson, the California native with the heavy right foot and thoughtful, free-thinking ways and Knaus the no-nonsense Midwesterner.

When they started, they were the new kids who had been given access to car owner Rick Hendrick’s castle. Their debut season together came after Jeff Gordon had won his fourth title in 2001.

With a champion to lean on and more toys — resources — than the North Pole, Knaus played mad scientist and Johnson was Speed Racer. They won a pole in their first start. They won a race in their 10th start together. Then they won three races later.

While they fought — as brothers, as they liked to say — success kept them together. The longer they lasted, the more it seemed as if they would stay together until Johnson quit driving.

But the struggles on the track accelerated the thinking. While this team has shown more speed recently and Knaus remains confident that they can win this season, it became time for change.

“We have had a hell of a run,” Johnson said. “And a new spark probably wouldn’t hurt us. There is something to that and something new that we can both participate in. And then still at the same time be there for one another on a level that I don’t think has ever existed when a driver/crew chief do split. These splits usually are pretty tough. And in our situation, it’s not that. So, I have an ally and he has an ally. 

“Once you make the decision, and you start putting one foot in front of the other, I often find a lot of excitement in those moments and I have in this.”

Now that we know they will be apart, the question becomes how much longer will they be in their current roles?

Johnson’s contract is through 2020. The 43-year-old would like to drive another decade or more but admits those all won’t be in Cup.

Knaus’ contract also goes through 2020. How much longer will the 47-year-old father of a newborn want to be on the road every weekend?

“As of right now, the goal is going to be for me personally is go build the No. 24 team to be the best team that I am possibly capable of,” Knaus said. “And we go and we win.”

Then Knaus added: “I doubt very highly that William and I will be together for 17 years.”

He laughed.

Jeff Andrews, vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, said that Knaus understands the challenges ahead.

“I know that Chad wouldn’t commit to do it if he had short-term plans about it,” Andrews said. “He knows that it’s going to take some level of commitment. That commitment is going to be possibly years to get the success out of it that he expects and we expect out of it.”

Until then, there are six races left for Knaus and Johnson to work together, six more chances to win another race, six more Sundays of us vs. them and then this chapter ends.

And a new era begins.

Johnson will be paired with Kevin Meendering, who rose through the ranks at Hendrick and has served as Elliott Sadler’s crew chief the past three seasons at JR Motorsports. Knaus will be teamed with 20-year-old wunderkid William Byron, who is a part of the organization’s future, just as Johnson was when he began.

Off the track, a new era also begins for Johnson and Knaus.

“I talked to Gordon about it and he swears that he and Ray (Evernham) are better friends now than what they were when they were winning championships and winning races,” Knaus said, “and I feel like we will be the same way.”

With that, Johnson and Knaus got up and walked along a quiet hallway to their next assignment. Work remained.

 and on Facebook

Hendrick Motorsports splitting Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson after 2018 season

9 Comments

Hendrick Motorsports will split one of the most successful driver-crew chief combinations in the sport’s history after this season.

The organization announced Wednesday that Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson, who have been together since 2002 and won a record-tying seven championships, will not work together in 2019.

Knaus will be William Byron‘s crew chief next year.

MORE: A look at where things stand in Silly Season

MORE: NBC analysts debate who wins an 8th title first: Jimmie or Chad?

Johnson will have Kevin Meendering as his crew chief in 2019. Meendering is serving as Elliott Sadler‘s crew chief in the Xfinity Series this season at JR Motorsports.

Darian Grubb, who is Byron’s crew chief this season, will be promoted to technical director at Hendrick Motorsports.

“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “They defied the odds by performing at a championship level for longer than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. What they’ve accomplished together has been absolutely remarkable and will be celebrated for generations. This has been an incredible, storybook run.

“It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years. “They’re fierce competitors, great friends and have immense respect for one another. They also fight like brothers. All three of us agree it’s finally time for new challenges and that a change will benefit them and the organization.”

Knaus and Johnson have been together 17 seasons, the longest active streak. Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe are the next longest driver-crew chief combination at eight years.

Johnson enters Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega SuperSpeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC) on a career-long 53-race winless streak.

[More: Johnson plays joke on No. 78 team with special gifts]

Since last season, Johnson has three wins, six top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes in 66 starts. That is the worst two-year period for Johnson and Knaus in their time together.

In their time together, they won one Daytona 500 (Johnson won a second while Knaus was suspended), two Southern 500s, four Brickyard 400s and four Coca-Cola 600s.

Pairing Meendering with Johnson next year brings Meendering back to Hendrick Motorsports. Meendering spent 16 years with the organization, becoming the lead engineer for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s team in 2011. Meendering has spent the past three seasons as Sadler’s crew chief in the Xfinity Series, leading Sadler to three wins and 38 top-five finishes.

On pairing Knaus with Byron, Hendrick said: “You can’t quantify how much Chad’s leadership and championship experience will benefit William, who is a special talent. The two of them are a great match, and I’m excited to see what they can do together. Chad has the Rainbow Warriors pedigree and truly appreciates the history of the No. 24. I’ve asked him to build another winner and given him the green light to put his stamp on the team and do it his way.”