Hendrick's team gets results working together

Updated: July 16, 2004, 11:55 AM ET
By Rupen Fofaria | Special to ESPN.com

With a driver in first and a driver in third, Rick Hendrick should be sitting on top of the world. Yet he awakes today with a heavy heart.

In the midst of yet another dominating season, racing takes a backseat to life. His father, Papa Joe Hendrick, passed away Wednesday night.

Jimmie Johnson
Johnson
It's a tug back to reality after what has been a season of sweet dreams. Jimmie Johnson remains one of the most consistent drivers in the sport and has taken the points lead. Four-time champ Jeff Gordon has hit a stride, and after consecutive wins earlier this year, he struck twice again at Sonoma and Daytona. He's third.

"It's amazing working at a place where there is so many dedicated employees; the guys across the board are amazing," Johnson said. "We have everything we need to excel."

That's always been Rick Hendrick's goal. Hendrick is building a dynasty off this modus operandi: Whether it be engines, tools or people -- he goes after the best in the business and puts them in the hands of the best in the business.

Hendrick has fielded the champion's car in five of the past nine seasons, and he's headed in the right direction to add to that total.

"I'm definitely proud of what this team has become," Hendrick said earlier. "I feel like I've got four guys who can win any weekend and put together a championship season. That's hard to do for one team nowadays, let alone four."

Hendrick Motorsports isn't exactly the Yankees or Lakers of the sport, but then again they haven't built its dominance on any similar strategy. Rather than going out and hiring the sport's big guns, Hendrick takes chances on young talents and builds champions.

I've heard a lot of people say that this sport is all about the people, and that's right. You have to have the right people, and then you can work from there.
Rick Hendrick

Other than Terry Labonte, who was already a champion when he came to the organization, Hendrick has plucked three successful young guns -- Gordon, who has become a four-time champ; Johnson, who has strong champion potential; and Brian Vickers, who has a bright future.

"It's not just the talent," said Gordon's crew chief, Robbie Loomis. "These teams work so well together, and we're all better because of it."

That kind of teamwork isn't easy to achieve, but Hendrick's got it. Especially between his two heavy horses -- Gordon and Johnson. Gordon is actually a half-owner of Johnson's team, but he helps Johnson increase the points lead he has over Gordon every week by sharing information and tips.

It's a two-way road.

"We share everything," Johnson said. "It's all under one roof and when you go in there there's guys wearing Lowe's (working) under the 24 car and there's guys wearing DuPont uniforms under the 48."

Hendrick has said he believes that teamwork spirit helped Gordon when he first began and received some tutelage from Labonte, and working with Gordon has helped Johnson catch on quickly. Hendrick hopes the wealth of experience and talent will pay off for Vickers as well.

"I've heard a lot of people say that this sport is all about the people, and that's right," he said. "You have to have the right people, and then you can work from there."

Hendrick seems to have some good people. And two of them are driving neck-and-neck for the title. After Richmond, with 10 races to go, the top 10 will be pitted against one another with just 50 points separating first and 10th. No one knows where Johnson and Gordon will end up there, but certainly they'll be among the top 10.

"Obviously, we have raced against each other for wins and competed at that level, but a championship will be a whole new thing," Johnson said. "As far as I am concerned that is a good problem to have. And I will look forward to racing him for the championship. I hope it comes down to a four-car race for the championship, and it's all four Hendrick cars."

Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rfofaria@espnspecial.com.