Which of his drivers does Rick Hendrick want to see win 2014 Sprint Cup championship? He’ll never tell

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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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NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski