BROOKLYN, Mich. – While he absolutely gushed over Jeff Gordon’s win in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, team owner Rick Hendrick was not about to be drawn into picking favorites.
When asked by MotorSportsTalk whether he had any leaning towards Gordon’s bid for a fifth championship (“Drive For Five”) over Jimmie Johnson’s hopes of a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship this season, Hendrick refused to take the bait.
“You really think I’ll answer that?” Hendrick said with a laugh after the race in the Michigan International Speedway media center.
Then he drew serious, and his answer somewhat surprised.
“Look, I don’t have any favorites,” Hendrick said. “I would love to see Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) get his first championship. I would love to see Jimmie get number seven. I’d love to see Jeff get number five.
“The thing I’m so proud of with the whole group, I feel we’ve run 1-2-3 in the points. Before the race I would get them together and say, ‘Listen, I want you to know what I’m going to do. I’m going to go to the loser first. I don’t want the guys that got beat to think I’m in Victory Lane celebrating.’
“I care about them all. We give them each the best equipment. There’s reasons I’d like each of them win it. Let the best man that does the best job end up with the trophy.”
Hendrick did commit to one thing: how he admires Gordon’s performance this season – and how it has brought back great memories from the past, as well.
When asked if he has ever seen Gordon drive more consistently, better and more focused, Hendrick replied “no” and then kind of took a trip back memory lane.
“I think what I see now with Jeff today is how smart he is,” Hendrick said. “If someone gets in front of him or is trying to block him like they did today, instead of pushing the envelope like maybe he did in the early years, he’ll just back off and let them use their stuff up, then he’ll pass them.
“You just don’t see him make any mistakes. I think all of his years of experience is paying off for him right now. When you have the fastest car, everybody races you extremely hard. They know they got to get you on the restart. If they can do that, probably they can pull away.
“I’ve never seen him with just enough aggressiveness. When he drove down in the corner, the quarter panel, at 210 mph (during Sunday’s race), that’s what the young Jeff Gordon did.
“He made so many moves today in that race that showed his patience, knowing he had the car. And Alan (crew chief Alan Gustafson) was doing a great job of giving him his lap times, telling him, ‘Let them get in single file, come off of two behind them and you’ll get them.’ It was working all day.”
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