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Legendary Team Owner Hendrick Defines NASCAR Excellence at Brickyard

While the drivers are the true stars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most famous racetrack in the world has showcased some of the legendary team owners in the history of racing. Some have been tremendous innovators; others have been true sportsmen.

Roger Penske is in the winningest team owner in the history of the Indianapolis 500 with a remarkable 18 victories.

In the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, the team owner that towers above the rest is Rick Hendrick, with 10 wins in the annual NASCAR Cup Series race at the 2.5-mile oval. 

With 257 Cup victories, Hendrick is closing in on the NASCAR record of 268 Cup wins established by Petty Enterprises. Of course, that dates all the way back to Lee Petty’s days as a driver in 1948 and includes 198 of Richard Petty’s NASCAR Cup record 200 wins.

Hendrick and history are becoming synonymous. And there is no more historic racetrack in the world than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Any time you come to Indianapolis, it's almost like sacred ground,” Hendrick said. “Reading about it and growing up in racing, I never thought I'd ever go to a race here, but to have an opportunity to win this thing, it's just phenomenal. It doesn't get any better than this.

“I still get chill bumps when I walk out Gasoline Alley and see all the people on both sides of the track.”

Hendrick’s first victory in the annual NASCAR classic at IMS came in the inaugural, as local hero Jeff Gordon made history with a victory. The team’s most recent win at IMS was in 2017, with driver Kasey Kahne.

Hendrick has come a long way since he announced the formation of All-Star Racing at his City Chevrolet dealership on the East Side of Charlotte, North Carolina, in the fall of 1983. The team began competition in 1984 with Geoff Bodine as the driver.

“It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” Hendrick said. “I wake up sometimes and think this has happened in a hurry, but it’s been a phenomenal amount of work, too. Where we have been is the easy part. Keeping it going is the hard part.”

Even with all the success Hendrick Motorsports has achieved, including Jimmie Johnson’s record run of five straight Cup titles from 2006-10, Hendrick is always looking ahead.

“You can’t be as cautious and afraid to make changes and try to improve,” Hendrick said. “You are only as good as you were last race of last year. Every year, we are all even starting at Daytona, and I hope that you aren’t asking me in September or October what is wrong, what happened, and where did it fell apart. That is what I work hard trying to do.”

In the 36 seasons Hendrick has been a team owner, the sport has grown and so has his role as a businessman. But the team owner realizes the key to success is always the depth and quality of talent that runs through the organization.

“I would like to take credit for all the success and none of the failures,” Hendrick said. “I feel like we got this thing started, but it has grown into a life of its own. My role is to keep them between the ditches. If I see something getting out of whack to step in and get a decision made. This thing is too big for one person to make a decision.

“You’ve put it on them (other members of team). I have to get it started and keep it rolling along with the least amount of friction and take care of the sponsors, but I’m just a part of the team that wants to continue to be successful.

“It’s always hard. I’m a procrastinator, anyway. One reason we are so tight here is I don’t like to make a decision because I’m not as smart as these other guys are. If I can get them all together, I learned this from Saturn a long time ago, and it’s called `Going Green.’ If you have one guy that is a red light and thinks it won’t work, then you work on him until you get him into a neutral zone. It’s never failed to me that if I have one guy that is adamant against something, then we will talk it through. The negativity is sometimes good. Communication is so important in this sport and every business that is out there.”

In addition to luring the best driver talent in the series to the team, Hendrick has also been able to hire some of the best engineers and mechanics in the business. Crew chief Chad Knaus is a primary example, as he teamed with Johnson to win a record-tying seven Cup Series championships and now works with promising youngster William Byron.

The list of races that Hendrick has won, the names of the drivers that have driven his cars and the crew chiefs that have been produced by the organization are of Hall of Fame level.

That gives the winningest team owner in NASCAR history at the Brickyard a tremendous level of satisfaction.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life, and I’ve been able to do a lot of things I’ve wanted to do,” Hendrick said. “I enjoy being around. I love what I do in racing, and I’m very blessed. I’m thankful every day when I get up that God has given me a new day. There are a lot of people that don’t have a chance in life that they get to do what they want to do, and I’ve been blessed by being able to have that.”

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