The Future Looks Bright for Hendrick Motorsports

For more than two decades, Hendrick Motorsports has been at the top. The organization has become the “dream team” of NASCAR with its star lineup every year. From the likes of Geoff Bodine and Darell Waltrip, to the current stars of the organization Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, Hendrick is the elite team in NASCAR.

The look of Hendrick Motorsports will be different following the 2015 season. It was announced in mid-January that 2015 will be Gordon’s last season as a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver. For the past 23 seasons, he has not only been the face of Hendrick, but also the face of NASCAR.

Gordon has accumulated the best numbers in multiple categories for the organization in which he has driven for since his rookie season. Four championships, 92 wins, 320 top-fives and 454 top-10s in his tenure while piloting the No. 24 Chevrolet. However, 2015 is it for Gordon.

2014 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott will pilot Gordon’s vacated ride beginning in 2016. In one season in NASCAR’s second-tier division, the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott made an immediate impact.

The 19 year-old racked up three wins, 16 top-fives and 26 top-10 finishes in his first full-time season at JR Motorsports. JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. has an alliance with Hendrick, which is a big reason why Elliott will be getting the chance of a lifetime in 2016.

“It has been a long time since I have seen anyone this good at such a young age,” Earnhardt told reporters after Elliott won the XFINITY championship last season.

When Elliott races full-time in the Sprint Cup Series, he will be 20 years old.

“I've been so impressed with what he did last year in the (XFINITY Series) car, winning a championship in his rookie year,” Hendrick said of Elliott at the NASCAR Media Tour.

Then, there is Jimmie Johnson. The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion’s contract runs out after the 2015 season. But will he really go to any other organization? Never say never, but in this case, the driver of the No. 48 will not be going anywhere. For the last 13 full-time seasons behind the helm of the Lowes Chevrolet, Johnson has accumulated 70 wins, 193 top-fives and 292 top-10 finishes. He is also in a league of his own when it comes to winning five straight championships from 2006-2010. 

The pairing of he and Chad Knaus as his crew chief almost seems invincible. Although coming off of a poor season in 2014, the two are arguably the best driver-crew chief since Richard Petty and Dale Inman.

Next up is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In 2015, Earnhardt will be welcoming a new Cup Series sponsor, although he has been associated with them for quite some time. Nationwide Insurance will be aboard his car for 21 races, with Diet Mountain Dew on board for five events and Kelley Blue Book for one contest.

Ever since going to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, the driver of the No. 88 was not very successful until last year. Coming off his best statistical season since 2004, Earnhardt lost a key part of the team. Crew chief Steve Letarte made the move to the broadcasting booth for NBC Sports over the off-season. Bringing in Greg Ives, who has worked for JR Motorsports for the past several seasons.

However, it could be difficult for them to connect. It took a couple years before Earnhardt and Letarte were successful, but they went out with a bang. Four wins, 12 top-fives and 20-top ten finishes for the duo in 2014.

"We're really excited about working with Greg next year,” Earnhardt told reporters during the NASCAR Media Tour at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “He's got a bright future. I'm glad I'm going to be a part of that ride. Hopefully, we can hit the ground running.”

That is to be determined, but- Earnhardt Jr. looks to be set for a ride until he decides to hang the helmet up.

The last driver currently racing for Hendrick is Kasey Kahne. The driver of the No. 5 has underperformed in his first three seasons behind the wheel of the Hendrick Chevrolet. The team and he have been on the Chase “bubble” each of the last three years. They made the Chase for the Sprint Cup each year, but made it in as a wild card during the first two seasons, and it took them until the 25th race of the 2014 season to win at Atlanta.

Change is what Kahne needed. He, like Earnhardt, will have a new crew chief in 2015. The leader atop of the pit box will be Keith Rodden. The duo has worked together for many years, with Rodden serving as the lead engineer and car chief for Kahne for his first ten seasons as a NACAR Sprint Cup driver. 

“To have Keith Rodden back on the five team, I've worked with him for years,” Kahne said of his new crew chief. “I think the first time he was my engineer was 2004, so we've worked together for a long time and we've had a great relationship.”

It will be crucial for Kahne to get off to a good start in the 2015 season. He has only recorded five victories in his three seasons at Hendrick. But coming off of a season where the No.  5 team only had three top-five finishes last season. Kahne is signed through 2017, which came as a surprise before Gordon announced that 2015 would be his last season. Many thought that if Kahne underperformed again this season, Elliott would take over his ride.

Hendrick has his eye on Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver Kyle Larson. Like Elliott, Larson is still young, but the 22 year-old has already established himself as a guy who is going to run up front week-in and week-out.

In his first full-time season behind the wheel of the No. 42 the phenom had a chance to win a handful of events. He finished the season with eight top-fives and 17 top-10 finishes.

"I’m disappointed that we don’t have him, I’ll be honest, but we didn’t have a place for him," Gordon told reporters in Charlotte. "I think Chip did a great job scooping him up and backing him the way they have and giving him opportunities to go showcase his talent and now getting him into Cup, where he truly belongs."

Gordon has also labeled the kid as the next “big thing.” One could only imagine what Larson could do in Hendrick equipment. 

Dustin Albino

Dustin is a 20-year-old, currently studying journalism at Ithaca College. Albino has always wanted to report on NASCAR and beginning at the end of 2014 that is exactly what he did with Speedway Digest. Since that time he has become well-known around the garage area and is looking to attend even more races than he did in 2015. 

Twitter: @DustinAlbino
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