Charlotte Motor Speedway has in recent years been dominated by the Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup teams. They might not have won every race, but they’ve dominated in many ways. Early on it was Jeff Gordon, but these days it has been Jimmie Johnson. What happened Saturday night and what does that mean for the 600 mile race next weekend?
[media-credit name=”(c) CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”246″][/media-credit]Once upon a time, Charlotte was Jeff’s place. Gordon was almost a sure win at Bruton Smith’s track in the heart of NASCAR country. Slowly, Gordon’s driver (remember, he is the official owner of the No. 48), Jimmie Johnson took over the crown. Johnson had a good run of wins at CMS, but this weekend these two were not at the front at the end. What’s going on?
As we now know, a group of Fords out of Jack Roush’s stable dominated the Sprint Cup All Star race. Carl Edwards dominated the event. David Ragan, another Roush-Fenway Ford won the first segment, and Edwards won the rest. Johnson was up front during some of that, but what of what the commentators call “Big Daddy” — Jeff Gordon?
Gordon has had a long stretch of pretty much a drought of wins the last few years. The once dominator of Charlotte’s 1.5-mile track, has fallen on hard times. Yes, Gordon has won this year (at Phoenix), but he seems to struggle to get to the front. What’s the difference? It’s the big question. The same could be said for Johnson. Maybe it’s NASCAR, but it’s more likely what has become parity. Roush-Fenway has finally caught up to the standard HMS set for the rest of the field. But that doesn’t explain the nosedive for the No. 24 and No. 48 teams. The constant crew chief changes by Rick Hendrick’s teams have maybe caused part of the problem.
Last year we saw HMS change crews change during the Chase with Gordon’s crew going to Johnson’s, and the constant changes to make Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s more competitive have had a negative effect on everyone concerned, or some it seems. In the meantime, RFR’s teams have become constant and the result is a point leader in Carl Edwards and tremendous performances. So what do we learn from this?
Maybe the struggles of especially Jeff Gordon have more to do with changes than the actual driving abilities of the four-time champion. Chemistry is a very important part of this sport and chemistry is hard to explain or define. The HMS boys might prove me wrong in the future, but I see better chemistry in the RFR Ford camp than what I’m seeing at HMS. Time will tell.
As we head to the big Coca-Cola 600 weekend, it will be interesting to watch what these two organizations do in the sport’s longest race. Will one or the other dominate or will a surprise winner come and spoil the show? My money’s on some organization other than the Hendrick gang. It’s probably a bad bet, but so far the performance isn’t there. Of course, that may change before Sunday night.