The Inside Line: Hendrick teams dominating in 2014

The Inside Line: Hendrick teams dominating in 2014

<p>Having won five races in a row, Hendrick Motorsports is outrunning the competition in the Sprint Cup Series this year.</p>

( - Having won five races in a row, Hendrick Motorsports is outrunning the competition in the Sprint Cup Series this year.

Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending series champion, has been the hottest driver lately, winning three of the last four races. Johnson scored back-to-back victories at Charlotte and Dover and then finished sixth at Pocono before winning at Michigan for the first time in 25 starts there.

Gordon started Hendrick's string of wins on May 10 at Kansas, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. kept the streak alive last week at Pocono after passing Brad Keselowski for the lead with five laps to go.

Right now, Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt are 1-3, respectively, in the point standings. Hendrick driver Kasey Kahne has struggled this season, but Kahne showed some improvement at Michigan, where he finished fifth. It moved him up two positions in the standings to 19th.

Earnhardt started the season by taking the checkered flag for the Feb. 23 Daytona 500, but a driver from Hendrick hadn't won again until Kansas.

Now the racing organization is making continuous trips to victory lane.

"I think we were a little off early in the year, but we've been kind of clicking here lately," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "Everybody is really putting out a lot of effort right now, and it's paying off."

HMS had perhaps its most dominating season in 2007, winning 18 of 36 races. That year, the team won four consecutive events in the early going (Las Vegas - Martinsville) and then five straight (Phoenix - Charlotte) before claiming six victories in a row at the tail end of the season (Talladega - Phoenix).

Next weekend, the series will compete at Sonoma, a 1.99-mile road course in Northern California. Hendrick has the most car owner victories there with six (five with Gordon and one with Johnson).

Johnson leads the series with three victories this season after he was winless in the first 11 races. Now that he has a victory at Michigan, just four tracks remain on his list where he's yet to win -- Chicagoland, Kentucky, Homestead and Watkins Glen. The series will run at Kentucky later this month.

"I'm just thrilled on multiple levels," Johnson said after he earned his 69th career Sprint Cup win this past Sunday. "The success that we've had as a team, kind of hitting our stride and getting to victory lane three times in the last four weeks, our teammates and their success, the company, and you look at our engines in our cars and what they're able to do, Rick gives us all the tools to go out there and do our jobs and to have everything so fast and so good. You want it to last forever. We know that it won't, but it's just a good time to sit back and reflect and enjoy it."

Not only has the Hendrick organization been at the top of the class this season, but those teams which receive engine support from Hendrick -- Stewart- Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and HScott Motorsports -- have been running strong this year as well.

Nine of the top-13 finishers in the Michigan race were in Hendrick-powered cars. All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers placed in the top seven.

Kevin Harvick from Stewart-Haas finished second after starting on the pole and leading the most laps with 63. Harvick set a new track-qualifying record there at 204.557 mph last Friday. Rookie Kyle Larson from Ganassi took the eighth spot. Harvick's teammates, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, were 11th and 13th, while Larson's teammate, Jamie McMurray, placed 12th.

McMurray won last month's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (a non-points-paying event) at Charlotte.

"I think it's obvious that Hendrick Motorsports produces fast race cars," Johnson noted. "They build fast engines. It doesn't matter if it is Stewart- Haas (Racing), or the Hendrick organization, we're winning a lot of races and running up front."

After finishing third at his home track, Team Penske driver and Michigan native Brad Keselowski admitted that his team as well as the other non- Hendrick-affiliated teams in Sprint Cup have a lot of catching up to do.

"We all have got a little bit of work to do because it's pretty obvious that the Hendrick engines are way ahead of everyone else," Keselowski said.

Fifteen races have been completed and 11 remain before the regular season concludes and the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins.

"We've got work to do to get there," Keselowski added. "Thankfully, we've got 12 to 13 weeks until the Chase starts, and I know we've got some stuff coming up for that. I think we're right there at Penske, kind of just maybe a half a nose behind the Hendrick cars or Hendrick-powered cars, whatever you want to call them.

"But we need just a little bit more, and if we can do that, I really feel like we can kind of have a strong march over the fall and have a shot at running for the championship."

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