May 22, 2012
By Guest Columnist Cathy Elliott
New this week, a Valley Girl weighs in on NASCAR: “Hendrick Motorsports is so, like, totally two-faced. You know?”
Yes, we know … maybe.
Everyone is familiar with the expression, “Face of the Franchise.”
The term refers to an athlete so overwhelmingly popular and successful that he or she becomes synonymous with their team. Who, after all, can think of the New England Patriots without Tom Brady coming to mind? The same holds true for Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees, and the LA Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. As their stars burn brightest, it is hard to picture one without the other.
NASCAR has certainly had its share of franchise players over the years; the Wood Brothers/David Pearson and Richard Childress/Dale Earnhardt tandems spring immediately to mind. But for the past two decades, the duo that has risen to the top and literally changed the face and the public perception of motorsports has been the Rick Hendrick/Jeff Gordon combo platter. Gordon’s 85 wins went a long way – about 43 percent of the way, if we’re splitting hairs – towards Hendrick Motorsports’ (HMS) historic 200th victory celebration at Darlington Raceway on May 12.
Since making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) debut in 1992, in addition to those 85 victories, which place Gordon third on the all-time win list, he has won four championships for HMS, an organization he has been an integral part of for his entire Cup Series career. To say his stats are impressive would be a massive understatement.
“I feel like I was given a golden opportunity to come work for Rick. He has been a mentor to me and somewhat of a father figure that has broadened my horizons, and what I’ve ever dreamed of as a race car driver and as a person,” Gordon said after the 200th win. “It’s been the most amazing experience, to see what the organization has done, accomplished, and see how it’s grown, and to be a part of it. We have the most amazing team.”
In sports, generally a team will quietly draft a solid backup – we’ll use the Green Bay Packers, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers for our purposes here – and then The Face will retire with dignity, be showered with love and accolades, and get on with his life … or act all peevish, refuse to go away graciously and continue playing a bit past his prime.
Rick Hendrick has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent over the years, but it was the driver who joined HMS’ Cup Series program fulltime in 2002 whose face we have now grown so accustomed to seeing that some people have actually grown sick of looking at it.
Over the course of the past decade, Jimmie Johnson has racked up 56 victories and a record-shattering five consecutive NSCS championships, from 2006-2010. He was the first race car driver in history to be named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, and for the past two years has topped Forbes magazine’s Most Influential Athletes list.
After his historic win, Johnson had nothing but praise for his boss.
“When you think of all the things he has pioneered, the way he runs his business, the way he’s maintained friendships and respect at the track … he’s accomplished a lot in a lot of areas,” he said. “Two hundred wins is something the record books show, and frame in that success. When you’re talking about the sport, 200 wins is impressive, yes, but what the company is about is more than that.”
So maybe it’s true that when we think about HMS these days, Gordon and Johnson are the guys that come to mind, making the organization two-faced in a manner of speaking. But there have been many others who have contributed to the win total over the years, guys like Tim Richmond, Mark Martin, Terry Labonte and Kyle Busch. Gordon’s current teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne aren’t too shabby, either. All of them have rallied behind a single face: a hard worker, a motivated and motivating owner and, by all reports, a great guy. Together they have formed the team that has propelled Rick Hendrick to his most recent milestone.
Perhaps to say that Hendrick Motorsports is so, like, totally TOO-faced would be a little more appropriate.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.