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Successful Hendrick team leaves no stone unturned

by Dave Grayson
Monday, February 07, 2011

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Jimmie Johnson's Hendrick pit crew in action
Let's face it, when it comes to available resources to get just about any job done Hendrick Motorsports, (HMS), is very hard to beat. Their five consecutive championships from Jimmie Johnson, and the Lowes #48 team, certainly proves that point.

Well aware that NASCAR Sprint Cup races are often won or lost on pit road, HMS rented the Charlotte Motor Speedway last Thursday so their four teams could participate in pit stop practice under full racing conditions.

It also gave Chad Knaus, crew chief for the #48 team, an opportunity to test his new pit crew platoon system that will be used this year by both his team as well as the #88 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr. These two teams, located under the roof of the same HMS shop, will have access to a total of 18 men on race day. That's the standard six men over the pit wall for each team plus an extra six crew members to cover pit road situations such as injury or an individual lack of job performance. It will allow Knaus, and crew chief Steve Letarte, the opportunity to mix and match crew members on an as needed basis. The other two teams, the #5 of Mark Martin and the #24 of Jeff Gordon, will have their standard six man pit crews with an additional four men for back up.

The pit crew practice was no sooner underway when speculation began wondering if this session was a violation of NASCAR's test policy implemented last year. That policy placed a ban on individual team testing at any and all race tracks that are NASCAR sanctioned even the ones that aren't on the schedules of the sanctioning body's three national touring series.

It was quickly pointed out that last Thursday's HMS pit crew practice was not in violation of the policy. That's because the parameters of the session was limited only to the speedway's pit road. At no time did any of four race cars go out onto the track for some hot laps.

Noticeably absent from the pit crew practice was Jeff Gordon's #24 Chevrolet. The Gordon crew used a second #5 Chevrolet to practice with. So, where was the #24 Chevrolet? It seems it was inside of a car hauler on the way to Fountain-Colorado for yet another HMS test.

Jeff Gordon flew to Colorado Friday morning to test his car last weekend at the Pikes Peak International Raceway. The plan was to prepare for the February 27th Sprint Cup event at the Phoenix International Raceway. The team reportedly was especially interested in checking the area of their car's down force which is a huge factor while racing on the Phoenix flat track surface.

But, with all of the non NASCAR sanctioned race tracks located within the HMS south east home base, why transport a car, driver and test crew all the way to Colorado during the dead of winter? That's because the Pikes Peak International Raceway is remarkably similar to the Phoenix track. Both are one mile ovals with low banked turns: 11 degrees at Phoenix and ten degrees at Pikes Peak. Because of the configuration of these two speedways, down force is an important factor. That means Gordon and company will be bringing back a lot of pertinent data that they can share with their team mates.

There's a phrase that adequately describes the time, effort and expense that comes with these two tests. It's called getting a leg up on your competition. Extensive preparation has always been a trademark at Hendrick Motorsports and many times the result has been raising the bar on performance levels which means their competition also has to work a little harder to keep pace. These are the type of moves that often leads to race wins and championships.

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