MEGA-TEAMS Hendrick's multiple-car concept is big



If you don't have one, you might as well stay home.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Once considered misguided for building a multi-car team, Rick Hendrick's idea has become the model for successful teams in NASCAR's top series. And now, after a few seasons of struggle, Hendrick Motorsports is again the team to beat.
The head of one of the country's biggest automotive groups, Hendrick has had his share of success outside and inside racing. He's a wealthy, successful man, and his team has won 126 races and five Cup championships since it was begun in 1984 with a one-car entry for Geoff Bodine.
Now he has a four-car team -- once thought to be a revolutionary and unworkable idea.
Sitting pretty
Going into Saturday night's race at Bristol, Hendrick drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are 1-2 in the season standings and very much in contention for another series title, while Terry Labonte is 23rd and rookie Brian Vickers 24th.
Multi-car teams weren't a very popular concept when Hendrick came into the sport. Two cars on a single team were generally considered one too many.
But Hendrick saw it differently, running cars for Bodine and Tim Richmond in 1986, making it three cars in 1988 with Bodine, Darrell Waltrip and Ken Schrader and, finally, escalating to four entries in 2002 with Gordon, Johnson, Labonte and Joe Nemechek.
"It didn't work out overnight," acknowledged Hendrick, whose team won races but no championships until the '90's. "A lot of people told me, 'You can't do that. The drivers and crew chiefs won't share what they know and it will cause problems.' But I was pretty confident we had the right approach."
Driver took gamble
When Hendrick offered a ride to then-struggling former series champion Terry Labonte in 1994, he gladly accepted the opportunity despite the many naysayers.
"I remember when I joined the team, everybody said, 'Oh man, you're making a mistake. You shouldn't go down there. That's not going to work,' " said Labonte, who joined Gordon and Schrader on the Hendrick team.
"After I went down there and saw how he did things, I was real impressed," Labonte added. "And now it's the opposite. Everybody says if you don't have a multi-car team, you might as well stay home. The multi-car team gives you more information, better ideas and the opportunity to do a variety of things."
Things really came together for the team in the '90's.
Gordon, who joined the Hendrick team as a rookie in 1993, gave the owner his first series title in 1995. Labonte beat him for the championship in 1996, but Gordon added two more in 1997 and 1998 -- the only time in history a team has won four straight titles in NASCAR's premier series. Gordon won a fourth crown in 2001.
But, winning only one title in the past five years hasn't been very fulfilling for anybody at Hendrick Motorsports.
Team's direction
The team owner still thinks the key to getting back on top, though, is working together as a team and sharing information.
"I think we started rebuilding back in 2000," Hendrick said. "We told everyone at a [preseason] media tour, 'We're going to win together, and we're going to lose together, but we're going to be together.'
"And every crew chief and every driver that's come into the organization since then, and everybody that's been involved in a management-type position, we've had the goal of working together, sharing information and making it work."

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