by Ryan Isley
Writer’s Note: This is Part 7 in a 13-Part series. Each Friday from November 23rd to February 15th, Ryan will make a prediction for the 2013 NASCAR season spanning over all three main touring series – Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series. On February 8th and 15th, Ryan will predict the 12 drivers who will make the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase and the Sprint Cup champion. You can check out all of the predictions here.
A favorite phrase in the world of sports is “what have you done for me lately?” That will be one of the questions facing Hendrick Motorsports during the 2013 NASCAR season. And I think they will have a pretty good answer.
Hendrick Motorsports made news in 2012 when all four of their drivers made the Chase for the Sprint Cup. They will once again make headlines in 2013 – this time because they will win at least 18 of the 36 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. That’s right – Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will combine to win at least 50% of the races run on the Sprint Cup circuit in 2013.
While it may seem far-fetched that one team in the sport’s top series could win half of the races – especially against the competition in NASCAR – the one team that can pull this off is Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick has been to victory lane 209 times in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 147 (70%) of those coming from Gordon and Johnson.
The leader of the group will most likely be Jimmie Johnson, who has shown a great nose for the finish line in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. Johnson has 60 career wins and will enter the 2013 at No.8 on the all-time wins list after his first victory in 2012 at Darlington Raceway broke a tie between himself and Rusty Wallace. Johnson won five times in 2012, tying him with champion Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin for the most in the series. It was the sixth time in seven seasons that he had found victory lane at least five times and the eighth time in nine seasons that he tallied at least four wins.
Johnson will have extra motivation this season – as if he needs it – after finishing third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings in 2012. Johnson had the lead with just two races remaining and let it slip through his fingers as he was trying to win his sixth championship in seven seasons after winning five straight from 2006-10.
Jeff Gordon has crossed the finish line first in 87 races in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. That number puts him as the career wins leader among active drivers and is good enough for third all-time behind just Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).
Gordon had just two wins in 2012, but finished the season off strong with a win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was a season of tough luck for Gordon, as he came close numerous times but just could not seem to break through for a win early in the season. Both of his wins came in the second half, with his other one coming in the 21st race of the season at Pocono Raceway that helped him make the Chase.
2013 will be the third season for Alan Gustafson as the crew chief for the No.24 car – a change that has helped Gordon. After winning just one race in three years from 2008-10, Gordon has seen victory lane five times in the last two seasons. While we may never see the Gordon that won 10 races in each 1996 and 1997 and then 13 races in 1998, it seems that Gordon has gotten back to a level of confidence which will lead to more victories.
The two wild cards for this prediction are Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
The 2012 season was the initial one for Kahne with Hendrick Motorsports and he won twice on the year – tied for the second most wins in a season in his career. He also picked up two wins in 2008 and 2009 while winning six times in 2006. Along with the two wins in 2012, Kahne also tied a career-high with 19 top-10 finishes and had a career-best 13.1 average finish.
Kahne surprised many – yours truly included – by finishing fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings in 2012, second-best in the Hendrick Motorsports stable to Johnson. With the success he showed as the new kid on the block with Hendrick in 2012, it stands to reason that 2013 will be even better.
Earnhardt, Jr. was quite possibly on the way to his best standings finish in his five seasons for Hendrick Motorsports when his season took an unexpected turn and he missed two races in the Chase after suffering a concussion.
The highlight of the season for the driver of the No.88 car was undoubtedly winning the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway to break his 143-race winless streak. The streak had been the topic of discussion entering every season from 2010-12 after Earnhardt, Jr. went winless in 2009. After not winning in 2010 or 2011, getting the win in 2012 might be just the boost Earnhardt, Jr. needs to break through and have another season like 2004 when he went to victory lane six times.
Like Gordon and Gustafson, this will also be the third year for Earnhardt, Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte. The two seemed to click in 2011 and 2012, making the Chase in both seasons with Earnhardt, Jr. having some of his best consistency in 2012.
With these four drivers in the Hendrick line-up, anything is possible. That includes winning at least 18 of the 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 2013.
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