CONCORD, N.C. -- The days of penciling in a Hendrick Motorsports team as a championship contender aren't exactly over, but it would be inaccurate to describe the four-team organization as peaking with just one race remaining before the start of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . A year ago, HMS had all four of its teams, with drivers Jimmie Johnson , Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne , ready for the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' 10-race playoff. Heading into this weekend's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR), only Johnson and Earnhardt have secured bids for the 16-team Chase. Gordon can make the field based on his position in the points standings (he needs to finish 17th or higher Saturday night) or with a victory, while Kahne mathematically can get in on points but more likely needs a win to get in. RELATED: Updated standings The Chase officially gets underway Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway . While many organizations would be content with such a scenario, team owner Rick Hendrick knows that’s not what's expected from his group -- which has won 11 series titles. Hendrick engines and chassis have also been on the entries of eight of the last nine championship-winning teams (including those won by Stewart-Haas Racing 's Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart ). The bar rests high for his organization, Hendrick said Tuesday at the HMS campus. "People catch up; people work hard," he said. "Rule package, rule changes, usually we're on top of it and we come out in front. "To think that you can be in this sport every single year and be the dominant guy that wins them all, that isn't going to happen. NASCAR isn't going to let that happen." Johnson won four of this year's first 13 races, equaling his win total from a year ago, while Earnhardt Jr. has a pair of victories this season. Earnhardt Jr. has five top-10 finishes since his win in the July Daytona race; Johnson and Gordon have three while Kahne has none. Combined, the four have led just seven laps in the past eight races, a statistic that doesn't please the team owner. "It's just part of it," Hendrick said. "I'm a big fan of (Winston) Churchill … I don’t like it when we're behind, but it motivates me. We've just got to work hard, work smart and we'll be back. "We get in position in Darlington where we have three in the top six or seven and we run out of tires and that's our fault. … Maybe we just didn't use the right strategy, who knows? There's been a lot of that this year. We've just fumbled the ball more than normal." Earnhardt Jr., who finished eighth, was the only HMS driver to finish in the top 10 at Darlington Raceway this past weekend. Kahne finished 12th, Gordon 15th and Johnson 19th. RELATED: Results from Southern 500 HMS personnel aren't blind to the situation. "We know as a company … we see the obvious," Earnhardt Jr. said during Tuesday's edition of the "Dale Jr. Download" podcast heard on Dirty Mo Radio. "We see we've got to improve and get more speed. We as a whole group sense that." Knowing the strength and past success of the organization tempers concerns with the Chase on the horizon. "I'm real confident that our company's going to be able to find what they want and what they're looking for," Earnhardt Jr. said. "They always have." While his group may not be competing at the level expected, Hendrick isn't ready to toss in the towel. He admits the organization, as a whole, is "off a little bit." "Maybe we're the same and everybody else is better," he said. "We've had a lot of success and these people want it and they want it bad. They have a lot of pride and they don’t like to be beaten. So does Joe Gibbs (Racing), so does (Team) Penske, so does everybody out there. "The question is how do you get back?" JGR and Penske teams have been the teams to beat of late, with JGR drivers winning seven of the past 10 races and Penske teams scoring two wins in that stretch. "We've been (there) before when we weren't looked at as the best team out there, the best record or whatever," Hendrick said. "But it isn't over yet. So you go ahead and count us out."
After Race 29 of the 2015 season at Dover International Speedway Pos Owner Car # Points Ldr Nxt PPos G/L Attempts 1 Joe Gibbs 20 2,137 0 0 1 0 29 2 Walter Czarnecki 22 2,123 -14 -14 4 2 29 3 J D Gibbs 11 2,119 -18 -4 2 -1 29 4 J D Gibbs 19 2,118 -19 -1 3 -1 29 5 Barney Visser 78 2,104 -33 -14 9 4 29 6 Gene Haas 41 2,100 -37 -4 7 1 29 7 Rick Hendrick 24 2,100 -37 0 10 3 29 8 Roger Penske 2 2,100 -37 0 8 0 29 9 Joe Gibbs 18 2,099 -38 -1 13 4 29 10 Richard Childress 31 2,099 -38 0 6 -4 29 11 Rick Hendrick 88 2,098 -39 -1 12 1 29 12 Felix Sabates 1 2,098 -39 0 11 -1 29 13 Jeff Gordon 48 2,086 -51 -12 5 -8 29 14 Tony Stewart 4 2,082 -55 -4 15 1 29 15 Richard Childress 27 2,075 -62 -7 14 -1 29 16 Rob Kauffman 15 2,048 -89 -27 16 0 29 17 Linda Hendrick 5 770 -1,367 -1,278 17 0 29 18 Richard Petty 43 767 -1,370 -3 18 0 29 19 Chip Ganassi 42 746 -1,391 -21 19 0 29 20 Jack Roush 16 706 -1,431 -40 20 0 29 21 Richard Childress 3 647 -1,490 -59 21 0 29 22 Bob Germain 13 624 -1,513 -23 22 0 29 23 Tad Geschickter 47 600 -1,537 -24 23 0 29 24 Tony Stewart 10 597 -1,540 -3 24 0 29 25 Margaret Haas 14 581 -1,556 -16 25 0 29 26 Richard Petty 9 570 -1,567 -11 26 0 29 27 John Henry 17 561 -1,576 -9 27 0 29 28 Michael Waltrip 55 542 -1,595 -19 28 0 29 29 John Henry 6 530 -1,607 -12 29 0 29 30 Harry Scott Jr. 51 482 -1,655 -48 30 0 29 31 Bob Jenkins 35 446 -1,691 -36 31 0 29 32 Brad Jenkins 38 433 -1,704 -13 32 0 29 33 Michael Hillman 40 389 -1,748 -44 33 0 29 34 Jerry Freeze 34 387 -1,750 -2 34 0 29 35 Tommy Baldwin 7 352 -1,785 -35 35 0 29 36 Ron Devine 83 344 -1,793 -8 37 1 29 37 Joe Falk 33 341 -1,796 -3 36 -1 29 38 Harry Scott Jr. 46 294 -1,843 -47 38 0 29 39 Ron Devine 23 258 -1,879 -36 39 0 29 40 Mike Curb 98 239 -1,898 -19 40 0 29 41 Archie St Hilaire 32 232 -1,905 -7 41 0 29 42 Glen Wood 21 203 -1,934 -29 42 0 14 43 Anthony Marlowe 26 181 -1,956 -22 43 0 29 44 Bob Leavine 95 163 -1,974 -18 44 0 16 45 Jay Robinson 62 99 -2,038 -64 45 0 29 46 Rick Hendrick 25 89 -2,048 -10 46 0 5 47 John Cohen 44 12 -2,125 -77 47 0 4 48 Jay Robinson 66 8 -2,129 -4 48 0 4 49 Curtis Key Sr. 30 6 -2,131 -2 49 0 13 50 Robby Benton 129 0 -2,137 -6 51 1 4
( Photo courtesy of: Hendrick Motorsports ) RELATED: Darlington's throwback paint schemes Hendrick Motorsports and driver Kasey Kahne will pay tribute to the organization's inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season this weekend with a special throwback paint scheme similar to the one run by former driver Geoff Bodine. The majority of Sprint Cup Series teams will feature retro paint schemes on their cars this weekend as part of the return of the annual Bojangles' Southern 500 to Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway . Known at the time as All-Star Racing, team owner Rick Hendrick fielded the No. 5 Chevrolet for Bodine with veteran crew chief Harry Hyde calling the shots during the 1984 season. If not for a victory by Bodine, his first in the series, at Martinsville Speedway , the successful Hendrick Motorsports organization of today might never have existed. "We finished 35th in our first Darlington race back in '84 and nearly closed the doors," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "Martinsville was next on the schedule, and Harry Hyde did a great sales job and talked me into running one more race. "He was convinced Geoff could win (at Martinsville) and, thankfully, he was right. We were able to get a sponsor (Northwestern Security Life), which allowed us to finish the season and set the table for everything that's happened since." Today, HMS is a four-team Sprint Cup organization fielding entries for Kahne, Jimmie Johnson , Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr . HMS drivers have won 11 Sprint Cup titles (Johnson 6, Gordon 4, Terry Labonte 1) and 237 races. "There's so much history at Hendrick Motorsports with the wins and championships, so to go back to when it started with All-Star Racing, Geoff Bodine and that paint scheme is great," Kahne, who will run the retro look at Darlington as well as Richmond International Raceway , said. "It would mean a lot to win the Southern 500. It's always been one of the races that I've wanted to win … To do it in this car that time of the year right before the Chase, it would be a perfect time." RELATED: Kahne knows he needs win to earn Chase berth As part of a two-race partnership between Hendrick Motorsports and Hendrick Automotive Group, fans can register to win an all-expenses-paid trip to Charlotte, N.C. for a ride-along with Kahne as well as a behind-the-scenes tour of HMS. Click here for more information. "We've had a lot of success when our two companies have worked together on programs," Hendrick said "When Darlington announced the throwback concept, we thought it would be a great opportunity to bring back the All-Star Racing car and build a sweepstakes for fans and customers. "Seeing the paint scheme on the track at Darlington and Richmond will bring back a lot of memories."
RELATED: See who is in the Chase Officials with Hendrick Motorsports have announced two-year contract extensions for six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and primary team sponsor Lowe's. The extensions, which were announced today via press release, run through the 2017 season. Johnson, 39, is the No. 1 seed in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , which gets underway with Sunday's myAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). A four-time winner this season, Johnson is attempting to become only the third driver in series history to win seven premier series titles, joining Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. He is a 74-time race winner in the series and is only two victories short of tying Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time win list. Johnson is the only driver to capture five consecutive Sprint Cup championships (2006-10). He and crew chief Chad Knaus have been paired together at Hendrick since the 2002 season. "My relationship with Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports means so much," Johnson said in a team release. "To me, this just reinforces how committed Lowe's is to our sport and to our partnership. It says a lot to have one sponsor and one team for this amount of time. I couldn't be prouder to represent everyone at Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports . This is my home, and I'm looking forward to many more victories together as a team." Knaus, whose latest contract extension runs through 2018, won championships as a crewman with teammate Jeff Gordon in '95 and '97 prior to being named crew chief for Johnson. "The contributions Jimmie and Chad have made to Hendrick Motorsports can't be overstated," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "When Lowe's took a chance by sponsoring the No. 48 team back in 2001, we never could've envisioned the results. It's a championship combination and genuine partnership that we're proud to continue and committed to develop even further." RELATED: Johnson discusses his outlook heading into the Chase Lowe's, the North Carolina-based home improvement chain, has been the No. 48 team's primary sponsor since 2002. It also backed the team for three races in 2001. The company funded the efforts of drivers Brett Bodine ('95-96) and Mike Skinner ('97-01) before aligning with Hendrick . "Their dedication … not only to Hendrick Motorsports but to the NASCAR community and our fans, has been absolutely incredible," Hendrick said. "We're fortunate to work with a company that's truly passionate about our sport and shares many of our organization's core values." Hendrick teams have won 11 premier series titles and 237 races since debuting in NASCAR in 1984 as a single-car entity with driver Geoff Bodine. RELATED: Where will Johnson be for Chase Across North America? In addition to Johnson, HMS also fields NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries for drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Kasey Kahne . Gordon, a four-time series champion, will retire from driving at the end of 2015. He will be replaced by defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott . Earnhardt Jr. is signed through the 2017 season while Kahne's contract was renewed late last year and will keep the Enumclaw, Washington, native on board through 2018. Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. will join Johnson in this year's 16-team Chase field.
That high-pitched whir unique to Joe Gibbs Racing 's air wrenches could be coming to the pit boxes of one of the Toyota organization's closest rivals in the near future. Hendrick Motorsports ' motivations for hiring front-tire changer Nick Odell to Jeff Gordon 's No. 24 team last week came into clearer focus Tuesday at the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Contender Round Media Day. Odell, Gordon said, wasn't merely brought in for his nimble work during pit stops, but also for his institutional and technical skill, which helped in the development of JGR's enhanced air guns. "That was an opportunity to get someone that is highly regarded on pit road, very knowledgeable about more than just changing tires," Gordon said during media rotations at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "He was somebody that a lot of people wanted to get their hands on, and Nick had to make his own choice and decision where he was going to end up going. I'm very proud that he came to our organization. I think it's going to pick our program up, which I feel like we've been off. "I mean, we train guys, we have very talented individuals, but it goes further than that. Now we're starting to see where these pit guns are a crucial part of pit stops. It's something we've been working on, and now it helps us take it to the next level." RELATED: Pit crew changes for Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. Odell's move came at the expense of specifically the No. 18 team with driver Kyle Busch , who lost a seven-year veteran from his over-the-wall crew, but generally for Joe Gibbs Racing , which unveiled the high-speed air guns -- known for their distinctively shrill whine -- during the 2014 season. The upgrade in equipment, combined with JGR's already quick personnel, has helped the team shave precious tenths of a second off its pit stops. Busch said he anticipated a similar air wrench design making its debut at Hendrick Motorsports ' four-car outfit in "six, seven, eight months," and that JGR will face even tighter competition on pit road next season. "I feel like Nick Odell, he's one of my best friends. I'm friends with all my guys, and if any of them left, I'd be hurt about it," Busch said. "I didn't want to see Nick go, but things happen for a reason I guess in this business. Certainly being a part of Joe Gibbs Racing and the development work and everything that we've done into those air guns, obviously Nick was a part of that and knows some of that stuff, so he's a guy who does have some of that knowledge and will share it, I'm sure, with the Hendrick Motorsports group." If Busch's timetable for air-gun development is accurate, Gordon won't have an opportunity to directly feel the impact. The four-time champion will be ceding his seat to defending XFINITY champion Chase Elliott at season's end, and changes to the 2016 rules package may reduce the premium on gaining spots during pit-stop exchanges. Gordon said that doesn't mean that teams will place lesser emphasis on seeking every advantage possible to speed up pit-road service. "I think you're just always trying to find out where you need more strength and what can make you better," Gordon said. "Track position has become so important. I think next year it'll be less important because of the aerodynamics, and I think that's great for the sport, but we're never going to stop trying to figure out how to find time on pit road if it's possible and to do it consistently. Right now, I think it's so crucial. The aerodynamic and power combination we have this year, it is so difficult to pass once you get the green flag and get strung out. Very, very difficult."
Kahne also picks up new primary sponsor for three races in 2015 RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today MORE: Rodden to step in as No. 5 crew chief Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday morning that it has signed driver Kasey Kahne to a three-year contract extension, keeping him in the fold through 2018 . "I've found a home at Hendrick Motorsports," said Kahne in a team release. "We have incredible people and partners supporting us, and I couldn’t be more excited about the direction we're headed as a team and a company. It's the right place for me, and I'm looking forward to being here for a long time." The news comes one day after a major shakeup with Hendrick's No. 5 Chevrolet team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, with Keith Rodden accepting a crew chief role and Kenny Francis, atop Kahne's pit box since the 2005 season finale, shifting to the position of vehicle technical director. Kahne, an 11-year veteran and 17-time winner in NASCAR's premier series, and Francis joined the Hendrick organization in 2012. "It's extremely gratifying to work with a driver like Kasey," said Rick Hendrick , owner of Hendrick Motorsports said in a team release. "I think the world of him both as a driver with championship-level talent and an overall terrific young man. Our whole organization has a great deal of respect for how hard he works, the professionalism he displays with our partners and the way he carries himself every day. We're committed to winning races and competing for titles with him for many years to come." In addition, Kahne will have LiftMaster on board as a primary sponsor for three races in the 2015 Sprint Cup season as well as an associate sponsor for the rest of the races. The agreement will be for the next three seasons (2015 to 2017). LiftMaster will be the primary sponsor for Kahne on May 24 (Charlotte), July 11 (Kentucky) and October 18 (Kansas). "It means a lot to have support from a great company like LiftMaster," Kahne said in a release. "The No. 5 team has high expectations for 2015, and they'll be with us as the primary sponsor at three tracks where we're traditionally very fast. All of us are looking forward to representing them throughout the season and developing a successful long-term relationship." We’re excited to join @KaseyKahne & @TeamHendrick starting in 2015! http://t.co/kZJdDPiroS pic.twitter.com/2aP8Oy7CJr — LiftMaster (@LiftMaster) November 20, 2014 The 34-year-old driver has won five times in Hendrick equipment and notched his best-ever finish in the season standings -- fourth -- in his first year with the team. Last season was a struggle, however, with Kahne posting just three top-five finishes and winding up 15th in the final standings. Kahne qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs with a Labor Day weekend victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the next-to-last race of the regular season. Kahne survived the first round of eliminations in the new-look Chase, but was ousted in the Contender Round, the second three-race leg of the postseason. Kahne agreed to join Hendrick in April 2010, replacing veteran driver Mark Martin . After signing the multiyear agreement, Kahne finished out most of the season in Richard Petty Motorsports' Fords, then spent the last five races of 2010 and all of 2011 driving Red Bull Racing's Toyotas before finally landing in the No. 5 Chevy. Re-signing Kahne, whose contract was set to expire after the 2015 season, helps solidify the Hendrick driver lineup. Team cornerstone Jeff Gordon , a four-time series champion, signed a lifetime contract with Hendrick in 1999. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson is also under contract through 2015, and Dale Earnhardt Jr ., the sport's most popular driver, is signed through 2017. With Hendrick at the NASCAR-mandated maximum of four teams and the unlikelihood of Johnson departing after 2015, speculation will likely rise about the future of 18-year-old prodigy Chase Elliott , the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion who is under contract to Hendrick and drives for the affiliated JR Motorsports team with co-owner Earnhardt. Team owner Rick Hendrick said Nov. 8 after Elliott became the series' youngest champion that the young driver's career arc will likely include a handful of Sprint Cup races next season, but that there is no accelerated timetable to place him in NASCAR's premier series on a full-time basis. Elliott will return next year to defend his title in what will be known as the NASCAR XFINITY Series, driving JRM equipment. "Another year of seasoning here will be good for him, and we're not in any hurry," Hendrick said. "He's 18 years old." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Kenny Francis expected to crew chief Nationwide champ's Cup starts in '15 RELATED: Elliott's path to a championship MORE: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today While the date of Chase Elliott 's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut has not yet been set, Hendrick Motorsports revealed his expected crew chief Thursday. Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Doug Duchardt said Kenny Francis is expected to be atop the pit box for those efforts. Francis was previously Kasey Kahne 's crew chief at Hendrick and is now in the newly created position of vehicle technical director. "I went to the NASCAR Nationwide banquet and was reminded that Chase is 18 years old," Duchardt said. "He's going to run Nationwide again next year and we've announced that we're going to run some Cup races with him in 2015. I would expect that Kenny (Francis) is going to crew chief those races for him. I think that's going to be a fun aspect of next year to see how Chase does in that. We'll see how things are going in '15 and see what the right steps are in the future. Right now, we're just going to take 2015 and take a look at how things are progressing. " ... It's like having this prospect in Triple-A that's batting .380 and when is he coming up to big club and run? We'll work on that, we'll see where that all heads." As far back as August, team owner Rick Hendrick was open about trying to get Elliott into a Cup car for a handful of races in 2015. "I think you'll probably see him run a few races next year," Hendrick told the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio in August. "Before he ever won a Nationwide race, I watched him test Jimmie's car and Jeff's car at Nashville, and Jimmie and Jeff both commented to me, 'This kid is super smooth and super fast. He takes care of his equipment, and he doesn't get in a jam.' "I said before he ever ran a race, I would put him in a 600-mile race at Charlotte and think he'd finish in the top 15, top 10, because he's so smart," Hendrick added. "He just understands the car and takes care of it. I think he's going to do a super job whenever the time comes. I think we'll surely, probably the second half of next year, we'll probably see him in some races." Dale Earnhardt Jr. , the co-owner of JR Motorsports and owner of the No. 9 car, has repeatedly said that Hendrick has "a great plan" for Elliott. Elliott broke out in 2014, winning three races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series en route to becoming the youngest NASCAR national series champion. He is set to drive the No. 9 car for a second straight season with JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Elliott will have a new crew chief in Ernie Cope, with Greg Ives joining Earnhardt Jr. in the Sprint Cup Series ranks. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
No. 88 team's win comes 10 years after fatal plane crash RELATED: Full race results " Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota MORE: Junior meets with another Junior MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- History exists in every turn, in every crevice of Martinsville Speedway . From the elegant grandfather clocks given as race trophies and the antiquated look and feel of the 0.526-mile track, the oldest on the circuit, to the historic black-and-white photos that populate the media center, there is always a constant reminder of the past here in the southern Virginia foothills. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a lover of NASCAR history, made some of his own with Sunday's victory. The man who attended his first race at the track in the 1980s, who grew up playing with toy Matchbox race cars in the front hall of his childhood home, listening to a race on the radio as one of the clocks his father won chimed every hour, now has a timepiece of his own after Sunday's thrilling victory. "You know, I love the history of the sport and just can't get enough of it," said Earnhardt Jr., whose mood vacillated from euphoric to contemplative throughout a 30-minute press conference after Sunday's win. "I just know this place has a special meaning and a special place in the series and the sport. Dad won several races here, brought home several clocks. I always wanted one." "This is so special. I try not to get too caught up in the emotion of it because it's a team deal, but this is very personal and very special to me to be able to win here." He did so by charging through the field after starting 23rd, leading 79 laps and holding off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon over the frenetic final four laps in a race that had big wrecks and bigger swings. That it was Junior and Gordon finishing 1-2 made the day more fitting for Hendrick Motorsports. Yes, Martinsville is steeped in history. Not all of it is worth celebrating. It was 10 years ago when a Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed into the side of Bull Mountain en route to Martinsville, killing all 10 people aboard. Jimmie Johnson didn't go to Victory Lane that day after his win, and team owner Rick Hendrick's presence at this track is no longer guaranteed. Sometimes attending is too painful for Hendrick , who lost his son, brother and two nieces in the tragedy. The team owner was at this one, though, his mere presence a symbol of the same strength he showed in the days and years following that incident. Like so many in the stands, he nervously watched the dramatic final stages unfold as he wondered if either of his two drivers would win -- or if they'd wreck each other trying. "We miss those folks, family and friends, and they meant so much to the organization," he said as the race wound down. "Every year we think about it, but this year's (different) … 10 years." Then he was there in Victory Lane, the man who has built a four-car operation that is the envy of many, wrapping up the 11-time Most Popular Driver Award winner in a massive embrace. There they stood as confetti poured down around them, two men who have both endured unfathomable tragedy yet manage to still exude genuine gracefulness all these years later. "I could feel how important it was to ( Hendrick ) and his embrace, when he would hug me," Earnhardt said. "You just know, there's a hug and then there's a genuine hug. His was the real deal. "This is the 10th anniversary. It's more difficult. The 10th anniversary sort of has you reflecting and remembering. … Losing my dad was difficult. I can't imagine that loss that he went through, his family went through, the whole organization. I think I've paralleled my loss and his loss until I started working with him, then I started understanding it's quite a bit larger void that it created." Sunday's unforgettable victory was Earnhardt's fourth of 2014, his highest total in a decade. He's won at Daytona and Martinsville in the same year, and swept the Pocono races. His No. 88 Chevrolet constantly runs toward the front more than it ever has in his career. In his final year with crew chief Steve Letarte, the National Guard team has reached that rare stage where it is fast at every track on the schedule. Opening the season with a Daytona 500 win set a standard the group has consistently matched, and for a while it looked like this team was destined to win the 2014 title until a rough three-race stretch ousted them from the postseason. "I don't believe in fairytales," Earnhardt Jr. said of no longer being in control of his title aspirations. "It's only destiny in hindsight, you know? This wasn't our year. It's only magical after the fact, when you see it happen." Letarte agreed, saying the team had "no excuses" for why it's out of the championship running. That reality didn't keep smiles off either of their faces, though. Letarte may have been as excited as Earnhardt, simply because of how frequently he's heard the clock talk over years -- and how winning at Martinsville was something that Earnhardt needed to check off his career resume. Sure, it didn't come in a championship season, but Earnhardt will never again have a "0" next to the win column at this venue. His place in the Martinsville history book is secured, the man who loves NASCAR history helping to ensure his name will be etched among other legends 50 years from now. There's a different kind of history that comes with this win, too. Personal history. "Hopefully when I'm at his house having a cold one, we'll listen to the thing chime 10 years from now and smile," Letarte said. Now that sounds like a fairytale ending. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Rick Hendrick accepts the 2013 Car Owner award from Las Vegas.
Rick Hendrick thanks Jeff Gordon for the impact he has had on NASCAR, and Gordon talks about his mindset headed into his last full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series.