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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Danica says goodbye: ‘Definitely not a great ending’ but ‘I’m for sure grateful’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s final racing news conference didn’t but at least she didn’t lose her sense of humor about it.

“Is that like the Oscars when they close the show out?” Patrick joked when her opening address was drowned out by the midrace broadcast of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the media center. “Take my mic away. I’ll leave. I promise. I don’t really want to be here because I’m pretty sad, but all right. I guess I’ll stop there.”

That was about as lighthearted as it got, though, for the most accomplished female driver in racing history after the final start of her career. That naturally made for some reflection, too.

“I will say that I’m for sure very grateful for everybody,” she said. “It still was a lot of great moments this month. A lot of great moments this year.”

Patrick was the first woman to lead both the Indianapolis 500 (in her 2005 debut) and the Daytona 500 (in 2013 when she also was the first female to qualify on pole position in NACAR history).

But she couldn’t bookend that with similarly memorable finishes. After crashing out of her final two Cup races in the November 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 2018 Daytona 500, Indy concluded the same way.

“Definitely not a great ending,” she said. “But I kind of said before I came here that it could be a complete disaster, as in not in the ballpark at all. And look silly, then people may remember that. And if I win, people will remember that.

“Probably anything in between might just be a little part of the big story. So I kind of feel like that’s how it is. I’m appreciative for all the fans, for GoDaddy, for Ed Carpenter Racing, for IndyCar. Today was a tough day. A little bit of it was OK. A lot of it was just a typical drive.”

Beforehand, Patrick seemed relaxed while smiling and laughing outside her car with a tight circle of close friends and family that included her parents and boyfriend Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

“For sure, I was definitely nervous,” she said about her first Indy 500 start in seven years. “I found myself most of the time on the grid being confused what part of prerace we were in. I was like, ‘I remember this,’ and ‘Where are the Taps?’ and ‘When is the anthem?’ but I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”

And with that, she bid adieu.

“Thank you guys,” she said. “Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you. Most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little. Thanks, guys.”