Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sports

Hendrick Motorsports still on roll after win No. 200

CONCORD, N.C. — After months of wondering when any Hendrick Motorsports car would win again, NASCAR's powerhouse program is on a major roll heading into the Coca-Cola 600.

Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson broke a 16-race drought this month at Darlington for the team's 200th victory, then won the All-Star race last Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Throw in a Sprint Showdown victory by Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a win in the pit crew challenge by Johnson's No. 48 team and it's a nonstop party for owner Rick Hendrick.

"The company," Johnson said this week, "is still on a high from the 200th win, and the All-Star win just kicked it up another notch."

That could be bad news for the rest of NASCAR.

Johnson collected the program's 199th win in October at Kansas. But he fell short in his bid for a sixth consecutive title. And none of Hendrick's high-powered drivers — Johnson, Earnhardt, four-time champion Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne — could break through this year until Darlington.

Things have changed quickly.

Johnson doesn't see why that can't continue Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600, where he'll start third. Kahne qualified seventh, Earnhardt 12th and Gordon 23rd. And Johnson has won nine times at the 1½-mile track: three 600s, three 500-mile fall races and three All-Star events.

This week, Rick Hendrick hosted a party in Charlotte headlined by country music superstar Brad Paisley. Hendrick's current crop of stars was on hand along with others who won for him through the years, such as Geoff Bodine, Mark Martin and Kyle Busch.

"It's a huge accomplishment for our people, and I'm really proud of them," Hendrick, 62, said. "You know, you need to stop and celebrate something like this because they don't come along too often."

Johnson recalled how during the Darlington celebration on May 12, Hendrick told him that now they'd gotten to 200, "let's get 250."

That indicates a focus that has kept Hendrick Motorsports clicking off wins since Bodine got the first in 1984 at Martinsville.

Hendrick's goal now is to put all four cars in the season-ending Chase for the Championship. They have some work ahead to do that.

Earnhardt's No. 88 car sits third in points, and Johnson is fifth. Kahne is 16th, but just 54 points out of 10th place. The one struggling most is Gordon, way back in 24th. He likely needs a couple of wins to claim a wild-card spot for the Chase.

Hendrick said he has never had so many races get away from such talented groups as Gordon's No. 24 team and Kahne's No. 5. "Between Kasey and Jeff Gordon, probably the rottenest luck I've had in my racing career," Hendrick said. "I mean, I can't even remember as many flat tires or wrecks or Kasey is running third on the last lap and gets shoved into the wall. We have had some freak things break on the car."

Gordon has tried to stay positive through the problem. "You can only do that for so long, but we're still doing it," he said.

The way things are going for Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson wouldn't be surprised if he and his teammates were all fighting for the win come Sunday night — just like Rick Hendrick wants.

"I'm sure we will be reminded of that here before long," Johnson said.

Comments
Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

The 2018 NFL schedule won't be released until 8 p.m. tonight, but the Bucs' eight home games were posted early — and presumably accidentally — on the team's site, showing what would be a daunting start to the upcoming season.Multiple outl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bay area has ‘hit show’ again, thanks to USF

Bay area has ‘hit show’ again, thanks to USF

For the first time since its season commenced, the USF baseball team enters a weekend as the Bulls' feature sports attraction.Basketball ended last month, and spring football ended last Saturday, meaning would-be baseball fans no longer have reason t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Mallex Smith has style.Effervescent personality. Pop culture hipness. Sense of fashion with accoutrements.Now the Rays are going to find out if he has game.More specifically, enough game to be a front-line outfielder, even an i...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs LB Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs LB Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured his ankle in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the upcoming season in question.General manager Jason Licht said that Beckwith had surgery Tuesday to repair his injure...
Updated: 3 hours ago
NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

The NHL got it right.Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning's top scorer and best player so far in these playoffs, will play Saturday's Game 5 against New Jersey. He's not going to be suspended for his vicious hit on a Devils player in Tampa Bay's Game 4 vic...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Plant alumnus Rex Culpepper doing well in second chemo round at Syracuse

Plant alumnus Rex Culpepper doing well in second chemo round at Syracuse

Former Plant High quarterback Rex Culpepper recently started his second round of chemotherapy but is doing well and should return to football eventually, his college coach said Thursday morning."He's doing really good," Syracuse coach Dino Babers sai...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

ST. PETERSBURG — An old friend is back in the lineup.The Kiwanis of Gulf Beaches Miracle League, which champions baseball for the physically and mentally challenged, returned with a flourish Saturday morning. We're better for it."This...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Nikita Kucherov drives Lightning past Devils

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Nikita Kucherov drives Lightning past Devils

Nikita Kucherov scores two goals and delivers some big hits as the Lightning beats the Devils, 3-1, in a physical Game 4 that pushes Tampa Bay to within one win of clinching the series.Meanwhile, the Rays beat the Rangers to as Jake Faria pitche...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Meet the state’s top pole vaulter: River Ridge’s Stone Baker

Meet the state’s top pole vaulter: River Ridge’s Stone Baker

NEW PORT RICHEY — Long before he became the best pole vaulter in the state, Stone Baker was 12 years old and liked to play football.He didn't know a vaulting pole from a tennis racket.Then one day his friend, Evan Bales, asked him to come over ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning holds off Devils and David Puddy

Lightning holds off Devils and David Puddy

NEWARK, N.J. — The Devils pulled out all the stops for Wednesday's Game 4 of their Stanley Cup quarter final series with the Lightning by inviting David Puddy at the Prudential Center.For those who do not know who he is, Puddy was Elaine's...
Updated: 6 hours ago