By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
What started off looking like another promising season for Hendrick Motorsports has seemingly gone down the drain since Summer began. As the season marches on toward the Chase, the usually ultra-stout race team looks to be at least a step — if not more — behind Joe Gibbs Racing, Furniture Row Racing and Team Penske.
Hendrick at the final off week in the season has just one driver — Jimmie Johnson — who has reached victory lane and Johnson hasn’t sniffed victory lane since California in March. Their other star driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still on the shelf as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Meanwhile Kasey Kahne has been mediocre for a couple of years now, and rookie Chase Elliott’s hot start to the season has cooled off tremendously over the last couple of months.
The team is now on the ropes as the Chase looms in the windshield.
You have to wonder if the sudden drop off has anything to do with Stewart-Haas Racing swapping manufacturers at season’s end.
When SHR made their announcement back in February that they would swap to Ford in 2017, Hendrick Motorsports, which provides engines, and chassis to the race team and shares notes openly to better both teams vowed that nothing would change in their final season together. However, magically since that stunning press release in February, the results have dropped off for both organizations.
Through the first seven years of their alliance, HMS and SHR combined for an average of over 13 wins per season. Through almost two-thirds of the 2016 season, both teams have tallied just a grand total of five victories.
SHR has luckily still had great performance from all of their teams — aside from Danica Patrick. Tony Stewart has turned back the clocks since winning Sonoma a couple of months ago, and Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch continue to be fixtures in the top-10, but for HMS things don’t look as promising.
Over the last seven races Hendrick Motorsports drivers have only accumulated two top-10 finishes. To put things in perspective you would have a better record if you made a four car team between HScott Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports and Tommy Baldwin Racing over that stretch. Those three lower-tier teams, which field a total of four cars, have combined for a win, a top-five and three top-10 finishes since Sonoma.
The team who for so long could do no wrong, just can’t seem to do anything right. Whether it’s pit road speeding penalties, crashes, or just unloading slow race cars, this team has seen it all over the last couple of months. Luckily the upcoming Chase will provide Hendrick Motorsports with a reset, and two of their drivers (Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott) should make the cut. Hopefully for their sake they can find something over the next four races to help them compete at a higher level in the playoffs, but it doesn’t appear likely that Hendrick Motorsports has the power to capture a championship in 2016.