Rick Hendrick at Homestead
CIA Stock Photo
For the first time since
the tragic Oct. 24 plane crash that claimed the lives of his son,
brother and two nieces, Rick Hendrick returned to the racetrack to
support his drivers as they vie for the NASCAR Nextel Cup
Championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hendrick has been in seclusion since the accident, which also killed
Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Jeff Turner and chief engine
builder Randy Dorton as well as four others after the plane owned by
Hendrick Motorsports slammed into a Virginia mountainside while
trying to land at the airport near Martinsville Speedway.
Hendrick briefly spoke to the media, thanking everyone for
supporting him and his family during the last few weeks,
including Kyle Petty, whose son Adam was killed during a Busch
Series practice session in 2000.
"We spent time together. He knows exactly what I'm going through,"
Hendrick said. "One of the things Kyle said that meant a lot to me
was, 'You know there are 365 days in a year and there are 38 checkered
flags.' The rest of the time we're all together here in buses and
planes and on pit road. You spend more time with these folks in this
garage than you do your own family. When somebody hurts, everybody
hurts. It's been very obvious to my family and to me that everybody
has been hurting with us and have sure been there to support us."
It has been a painful few weeks for Hendrick and his wife
Linda in dealing with the loss of their son Ricky, who co-owned Kyle
Busch's Busch Series team and Brian Vickers' Nextel Cup operation.
Hendrick spent most of Saturday atop the pit box in Busch's pit,
cheering on the 19-year-old driver.
"I don't know how Brain Vickers, as close as he and Ricky were,
could get in a car," Hendrick said. "I don't know how Jeff or Jimmie
could do what they've done, or the crew chiefs or the tire changers.
I know Kyle Busch and Ricky were awfully tight. Some of you don't
know that. He was his spotter, his owner, his big brother and his
friend. That kid wanted to win those two races extremely bad. I
apologize for him when he got out of the car if he didn't stop and
answer questions. I know where his heart was. He's 19 years old. I'm
awful proud of him. He's a good boy."
Although Hendrick has been in seclusion since the crash, his team
hasn't slowed down, thanks in part to the tremendous organization
Hendrick has built, an organization that recently celebrated its
20th anniversary. On Sunday, Hendrick will once again climb atop the
pit box and watch as two of his four drivers battle for the Nextel
"If you look at this year, it's been one of the best and one of the
worst at the same time," Hendrick said. "I'm proud of the
organization. We had a job to do and the organization had a job to
do and they showed up at Atlanta. They raced and we were fortunate
enough to win. Everybody in that organization, 450 strong, stepped
up. It wasn't one. It wasn't two. It was 450 people that just
really, really stepped up. Our guys are champions no matter what
happens tomorrow because of what they've been through. They've had a
tough time. I couldn't have done it."
Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson will be one of the drivers
trying for a chance to win the title on Sunday. He trails point's
leader Kurt Busch by 18 points while teammate Jeff Gordon trails by
"I'm excited for him to be at the track, but I also know how
difficult it's going to be for him," Johnson said. "When we first
came to the track it was not an easy thing. I know this weekend is
going to be tough for him. It's a big step in the direction of
trying to find some normalcy back at the race track."
Although Hendrick didn't take any questions on Saturday, he did his
best to answer the question foremost on everyone's mind - how does
Hendrick Motorsports continue on from here?
"What's going to happen at Hendrick Motorsports? We're going to
honor those people by going on," Hendrick said. "I can't replace my
family and I can't replace people like Randy Dorton and Jeff Turner
but what our company has always done is we're a strong group, a lot
of people with back up that are committed. The way we close those
holes is together each one of us picks up pieces.
"We'll not ever replace them but we're all going to pick up the
pieces and we're doing that right now. I'm so proud of what our
people have done in the face of all of this to give me strength and
give each other strength to go ahead. We've all kind of banned
together. You don't think you can get through it but again with faith,
and friends and family you can do it."
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