MULTICAR MANIA

| May 18, 2009

Hendrick responsible for integrated-team operations – By Kay Bell


For a generation, NASCAR has been dominated by multicar teams to the point that, nowadays, single-car entries stand out for their novelty. For this, fans can thank – or blame – Rick Hendrick.

The 2009 season marks Hendrick’s 25th year in the sport. Over the years, he’s garnered attention for many things: his car dealerships’ legal troubles, his battle with leukemia and subsequent charitable foundation to fight the disease, the tragic loss of his brother and son and, of course, for putting a young Jeff Gordon in a top-level race car.

It was Gordon who brought his boss his first Cup Championship trophy in 1995. But it was the multicar foundation Hendrick established a decade earlier that paved the way for that title and the seven additional championships drivers in the Hendrick stable have accumulated in the subsequent 13 seasons.

Some will argue that Junior Johnson assembled the first multicar team and, indeed, he owned cars for Darrell Waltrip and Neil Bonnett from 1984 to 1986. But those teams shared only a sponsor (Budweiser) and didn’t even occupy the same shop. And after those three forgettable seasons, Johnson reverted to a single car.

As Johnson fired and fell back, Hendrick saw the promise of a fully integrated operation that shared talent, information and operations. In 1986, he hired Tim Richmond to join Geoff Bodine in his stable. In 1987, he added a third car for Waltrip, who had parted ways with Johnson.

Obviously, the idea to put two, then three and now four teams together has worked out exceptionally well for Hendrick. As he celebrates a quarter century in Cup competition, Hendrick Motorsports remains the sport’s richest, most successful organization.

The rise of the multicar team has drastically altered the NASCAR landscape. These squadrons so dominate that a single-car team attempting to enter Sprint Cup racing faces near-insurmountable odds. On the other hand, the growth of big teams has coincided with – and in a big way, even fueled – the incredible growth NASCAR has enjoyed over the past decade. But, of course, every silver lining has a cloud. Here’s the good, bad and ugly.

Economies of scale
For owners, running multiple teams is a no-brainer. The economies of scale mean the cost of adding additional teams can be a fraction of the expense of the original as long as they share back-office operations and eliminate as much redundancy as possible. Of course, when a test goes poorly the bad information can affect all the teams. And if a crucial part fails on one car, look out on the others.

Even when drivers and their crew chiefs share information, what works for one guy might not produce the same positive results for his teammates. Despite all of today’s technology, much of a racer’s success still comes from seat-of-the-pants intuition and analysis.

Chemistry counts
Everyone knows workplaces are fraught with personality problems, regardless of the industry. When an owner can get multiple teams to work seamlessly and selflessly together, it’s one big party at the track. Unfortunately, getting drivers and their teams to play nice is not always easy.

When Hendrick decided to boot Kyle Busch to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr. before the 2008 season, many folks eagerly anticipated fireworks. They predicted HMS would soon tear itself apart with three dominating drivers under one roof. But Hendrick knew what he was doing.

Kyle’s personality apparently was the one out of synch with the overall operation. And though Junior’s team is still adjusting to its new environs, its problems appear to be internal. Unfortunately for Hendrick’s critics, there have been no tabloid-style throwdowns among Junior, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff.

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