Hendrick Motorsports' most recent stretch of success has been a two-week joy ride, highlighted by a historic 200th victory, an All-Star waltz and rejuvenation for NASCAR's most popular driver.
Now Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, the organization's oldest and newest drivers respectively, are eager to become bigger contributors to the company cause.
Gordon and Kahne aim to rekindle their winning ways Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway in NASCAR's longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 (FOX, 6 p.m. ET). Both drivers have multiple wins in the 600, but haven't had much to crow about in 2012 while teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have excelled.
For Gordon, the 1994, '97 and '98 winner of the 600, the drop-off has been most dramatic. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has just one top-five effort in 11 races this season and enters Charlotte with four straight finishes outside the top 20. A combination of crashes, cut tires and plain bad luck have dropped Gordon to 24th in the standings; the worst finish of his career came in his rookie season of 1993, when he wound up 14th in Sprint Cup points.
Despite all the misfortune, Gordon has managed to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of mounting frustration.
"What are you going to do other than just keep your head up and work hard and go to the next race and try to change it," Gordon said. "We've got too good of a team and too good of race cars to try to get down on the way things have been going. It's tough. It's challenging because every one of those races where you get out of the car and you see the dejection on the team's face. You know what you're going through and they feel it from you as well.
". . . So, the timing gets tougher and tougher all the time and the more races that go by that we don't get the results, the harder and harder that mountain is to climb. But we're just relying on our team and keeping the communication open and stay positive with all the guys and just say 'hey, this is our week. this is our week.' And you can only do that for so long, but we're still doing it. So, hopefully we'll see the results."
Kahne, who prevailed in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2006 and '08, entered the season as a potential dark horse for title contention based on his strong finish to 2011 for the lame-duck Red Bull Racing team. But Kahne stumbled out of the gate for Hendrick -- though he had two Coors Light pole positions in the first six races, he had zero top-10 finishes to show for it. Since then, Kahne has found a modest amount of consistency and enters NASCAR's annual endurance test with five consecutive top-10s, helping him rocket from 31st to 16th in the Sprint Cup standings.
"It never really got to me too bad because the situation I was in, I don't feel like we've performed to our capability yet at all," said Kahne, who will make his 300th Sprint Cup start Sunday. "I feel like we are running pretty well since the start of the season, we really haven't made those big gains yet. I think as a company it's obvious that we have the speed and it's all right there. We just need to put it together."