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If NASCAR 2010 is Roush vs Hendrick, then Hendrick feels he's still sitting pretty pretty....

   Rick Hendrick, with championship trophy number nine. Not a bad 25-year run for the NASCAR mega-owner (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    By Mike Mulhern

    One of the big mobile studio rigs for HBO's Jimmie Johnson 24/7, the four-part weekly series debuting Jan. 26th as lead-in to the Daytona 500, was parked out back Wednesday as the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour gang paraded through Rick Hendrick's massive race shop complex on Day Three.
   And, no, the four-time NASCAR champion isn't talked out yet, though that may be surprising, considering the seemingly non-stop run of interviews Johnson has been doing the past so many months.
    Hendrick has had the NASCAR world on a string the last few years, and, despite the upbeat optimism in the Jack Roush Ford camp, led by new cheerleader Jamie Allison, Hendrick men Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon probably still have that edge that took them to a 1-2-3 Sprint Cup tour sweep in 2009.
   Hendrick himself is still pinching himself about the success of the other part of his business world, the car dealership side: "We, the Hendrick Automotive Group, had a good year. We beat '08 in '09. I was real, real happy.
   "At the start of the year we had Chrysler going into bankruptcy, GM going into bankruptcy….and I've got about 35 of those franchises.
   "But I had a record year with my GM stuff. And I see the market getting better. There was a lot of weeding out of the smaller dealers.
    "And according to the analysts, for December we should be in the 11-million to 12-million range (on pace to sell that many cars over a 12-month stretch). So I think this is going to be a good year for car dealers. And if you look around, I think the automobile business has actually fared better than maybe housing and airplanes and commercial real estate."
    Win on Sunday, sell on Monday….though right now it might also be 'Sell on Monday so you'll have enough money to win on Sunday….'


   Chevrolet global boss Brent Dewar: he's leaving GM April 1st, after 30 years....but going where next? Dewar has been key in Chevy's championship runs (Photo: GM Racing)

   Chevy boss Brent Dewar flew in Tuesday with his entourage to toast the championship with Hendrick and his guys and talk a little about the upcoming season, just days away. Dewar decided last month to leave General Motors and Chevrolet after the latest GM shakeup. Just what that might mean in the grand scheme of things isn't clear. But Dewar, global boss of Chevrolet for only six months, part of his fast-tracking at GM, is only 54, and thus not likely to head into retirement…so where Dewar might land next is the subject of much speculation. After some 30 years at GM, will Dewar be wooed by another car maker?
    Certainly Chevrolet under Dewar has had quite a run. And he is the man who helped bring Tony Stewart back to the Chevy camp, as new owner-driver, and last year's hottest guy during NASCAR's regular season.
   Odds may look against Johnson (now clean-shaven again) in this year's Sprint Cup title chase. But then odds were that he and crew chief Chad Knaus wouldn't make it four-straight either.
   Actually, after several days of sizing up the competition, during the Media Tour, the Hendrick bunch looks just as strong as ever.
   The only potential negatives here: overconfidence, the burnout factor, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his distractions, like Danica Patrick and his own winless streak.
    However Hendrick doesn't seem very worried at all.
   The Earnhardt issue?
   Hendrick has put on a full-court press.
   "I don't pay attention to all the talk; I just look at what we can do," Hendrick says. "We've been doing this for a long time, and we know what works for us. There's no way for me to silence the critics except to get the job done.
   "This is show time.
   "We could see spurts through the year where we (Earnhardt's team) were getting better. But we had some of the most awful luck. And when you get snake-bit, you go to the next track waiting for it to happen again.
    "But we've put all that behind us, and we're starting again. Dale has been working out, he's been here with the team, he's been doing all the things we've asked him to do. He had the whole crew up to his house a few days ago.
   "He feels the pressure. He wants to run good. We just need to get a few good races under our belt. And have some good luck.
   "We're in it for the long haul. We'll just keep attacking it. And I've seen the commitment from Dale.
   "We're not going to be able to make the fans feel any better, though, until we do better. That's the bottom line.
   "Dale and I spend a lot of time talking about life in general.
   "We've just got to put our game face on and go do it."

  Danica Patrick, running for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s own team, JR Motorsports: Will she be an attraction....or a distraction? (Photo: JR Motorsports)

   But isn't the Danica Patrick thing going to be too much of a distraction? That remains to be seen.
   However Hendrick is high on Patrick's potential here and impressed by her commitment.
   "If you've ever talked with her, she has a confidence…..but she's not expecting things, not expecting to go out and dominate," Hendrick says. "She's says 'I'm going to try this thing and see how it feels.' And she was very impressive the first day she went out to test in Florida.
   "That's what the Nationwide program is supposed to provide – an opportunity.
   "And the sport can use this right now, the excitement of her fans coming over.
   "It's really cool that Kelley (Earnhardt, Dale Jr.'s sister and business partner) is part of the deal now (part-owner of JR Motorsports, the vehicle for Patrick's entry into stock car racing). Those are two women who can do some pretty exciting things for sponsors. And I think our sport can use that.
   "Danica is very impressive. She is about as together, in the way she analyzes things, in the way she walks into things without letting the pressure get to her….
    "She's got a real cool head on her shoulders. I think she's got the right approach.
    "So I'm going to do what I can…and we'll just see how it unfolds."

   Jeff Gordon says NASCAR will let drivers use the biggest 'plate' in 20 years at Daytona and Talladega this season, part of the sudden surge in changes the sanctioning body is undertaking (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The big story this month of course is NASCAR sudden move toward initiating changes, after a couple of years of standing pat. Jeff Gordon says NASCAR plans to give teams a much bigger restrictor plate for Daytona and Talladega this season "the biggest plate since 1989, which should give us all a lot more throttle response." And NASCAR says it's going to let drivers 'police themselves' more, which should allow more aggressive driving. Plus there's the looming changeover from the rear wing to the old-style flat-blade spoiler, which Jeff Burton for one says – after testing it – won't be any 'plug-and-play' gimmick, that it will change the way drivers use the air.
    The new mantra is 'change.'
   And that is drawing praise from teams.
   "In my 25 years in this sport I've never seen NASCAR as open-minded, and as open to new ideas, as right now," Hendrick says. "They've said 'Talk to us. We want to try to make it better.'
   "Times have changed…and we've got to change with the times. So NASCAR is more open-minded. And the race tracks too.
   "It's all a sign of the times, with the economy the way it is. We've got to put on a good show.
   "When we had our meeting with NASCAR (Brian France and Mike Helton), they did a lot more listening than talking."
   That said, Hendrick throws out a positive spin: "I think the sport is as competitive as I've ever seen it. We're running three-wide at some places like Homestead.
   "And when I came into the sport (in the early 1980s), you only had four cars to beat each Sunday, and only two cars to beat for the championship; today you've got a lot more."
   Which makes for interesting speculation on how all the planned and potential rules changes might actually work out. Will the changes help the bigger teams, which have more men to throw at a problem? Or will it go the other way?
   Whichever, Hendrick seems almost amazed at NASCAR's new stance: "I've never seen them this open to suggestions, and wanting to make it better."
    Hendrick says he expects the changes looming to persuade NASCAR to open up testing a bit more.
   "Now they're not going to make everybody happy, but I think the input they're getting from all the teams, and the way they're going about it, I think we're going to have a better product."

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   Will crew chief Chad Knaus ever burnout? Four straight championships now.....but car owner Rick Hendrick says "Of all the things I have to worry about, Chad burning out is the least of my worries." (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)







2010 Changes

Wait until they get to Daytona and they see the increase in closing rates that this bigger plate causes. I can hear certain drivers complaining already.

Probably right....

But I think those sandbagging days at Daytona and Talladega maybe over.

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