I never thought I would compare Rick Hendrick to a Marlon Brando character or the WWE legend who coined the phrase "Pimpin’ ain’t easy." But great googly moogly, has Hendrick evolved into the type of guy who has his hands in every element of the sport. To boot, everything he touches not named Dale Earnhardt Jr. seems to turn to gold.
That’s why Rick Hendrick is our No. 3 story of 2009.
Hendrick won his ninth title. Four with Jeff Gordon. Now four with Jimmie Johnson. (One with Terry Labonte.) For the first time, Hendrick had drivers finish first, second and third in the points. That feat has never occurred in the history of ever for NASCAR. Hendrick also helped recruit the most prized free agent in racing to his umbrella. Danica Patrick will race for JR Motorsports, which he co-owns. The move also secures new sponsors for Mark Martin, who plans to race at least another two years. I almost forgot – Hendrick provides engines to Stewart-Haas Racing, which busted out from non-factors to bad boys in the span of one year.
Last, but important down the line, Hendrick aided in the development of Brad Keselowski. While Denny Hamlin might hate this notion, Hendrick was instrumental in getting a young driver behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car. And when Mark Martin decides to retire (probably 2060), Keselowski’s name will be listed highly as a possible replacement. All of the development with none of the direct ownership. That’s pimping the WWE Godfather would be proud of.
Where are we now?
There’s no reason to think Johnson, Martin and Gordon won’t be among the five drivers with the best odds of winning the 2010 Sprint Cup. The only challenge is making sure Dale Jr. doesn’t end up like Fredo. I suspect racing’s Marlon Brando is making that a point of emphasis.
Why Should You Care?
In most sports, interest and revenue increase when you have a dynasty. The Lakers, Yankees and Cowboys fill time on sports radio, seats in opposing arenas and ad slots on TV networks. Rick Hendrick has the biggest dynasty going in North America. Yet his worst driver is the most popular, and his defending four-time champion has been on the throne as ratings have gone down. There is no reason to believe anything will change for racing’s Godfather. It’s up to the sport’s leaders (assuming they have one) to determine how Hendrick’s juggernaut can make the sport better, because it’s not going away.
Top story No. 5: NASCAR ratings down
Top story No.6: Talladega turns into the Bermuda Triangle
Top story No. 7: Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets clobbered
Top story No. 8: Tony Stewart has a Whopper of a season
Top story No. 9: RCR gets loopy
Top story No. 10: The return of Mark Martin
Top story No. 11: Kyle Busch sucks, rocks
Top story No. 12: NASCAR Hall of Fame
Top story No. 13: David Poole’s death
Top story No. 14: Double-file restarts
Top story No. 15: As the Danica turns