Rick Hendrick met with the media Tuesday after his team swept the board in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, claiming the top three championship places with Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. Here are some of the highlights:
Q. Rick, now that you've gotten all these records under your belt – you've got finishing one, two, three in the points this year, the four-time consecutive champion. You've got two four-time champions under your belt. What goals do you have that you could possibly fulfill next?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, this year I would like to have seen Jeff [Gordon] win number five, Jimmie win four straight, and Mark [Martin] win his first one. So I think my priority right now is the 88 team [of Dale Earnhardt Jr.]. We're working on them to try to make that team stronger. The goal going into next year now will be win races and get all four teams in the Chase.
So, I feel real good about the fact that we're rolling into the year with virtually no changes. You know, seeing the competition get stronger, so much stronger, like the Childress cars and the Gibbs cars are there all year anyway, and the Penske cars. It's going to be a dogfight. You know, we know we're going to have to be on our toes and work hard here now in the off‑season.
But we're very, very thankful for what we've gotten done. These guys kind of set their own goals. You know, I believe that as soon as they finished this one, Chad [Knaus, Johnson's crew chief] was thinking about number five, and Jeff and Steve [Letarte, Gordon's crew chief] are thinking about beating those guys. The planning and the execution have already started.
Q. Speaking of Dale Jr., have you guys put your finger on what it is that you need to do to make him more competitive?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, you see this happen. I've seen it happen with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie had a slump back around last year about the time we were in Vegas. You just go through these. We know we can make the team better, and it's frustrating, and it's…. You know, the driver begins to think that no matter what he does, that something's going to happen, because we've had failures, we've had wrecks. If it could happen, it happened to that team.
It's been really frustrating because about the start of the chase, the team was running better. It was probably the best car in Loudon, and it got swept up in a wreck. And we've had all the motors and all the transmissions and gears done in the same place. We had transmission failure, and we had a motor failure. The other guys didn't experience that in the Chase.
So when he's running good, something happened. And we just got to be better all the way around. I think when we do that, when Dale sees that we've stepped up in a lot of areas, it will give him the confidence he needs. So we're all over it, and we've been all over it. But it's really one of my focuses here. My priority – my primary focus here starting this week, starting Monday, really.