Chevy Racing–NASCAR–Homestead Prerace

FORD 400
NOVEMBER 15, 2016

Doug Duchardt, General Manager of Hendrick Motorsports, participated in a NASCAR Teleconference this afternoon to discuss Jimmie Johnson’s , No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, contention as part of this year’s Championship Four who will battle for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Full Transcript:

THE MODERATOR: We’ll be joined for the next hour by our Sprint Cup Series Championship Four team principals. First we have Doug Duchardt, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports. Doug, Jimmie Johnson is going for a record‑tying seventh Sprint Cup Series Championship. What would a seventh championship with Jimmie and the No. 48 team mean to Hendrick Motorsports?

DOUG DUCHARDT: Well, obviously any time you can win a championship, it’s special for the team, but winning a seventh championship would be extra special, tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty for the most championships.

I feel like for the company, while we understand that that’s out there internally, I think the focus is just on getting to Homestead and performing the best that we can, and we’ve been fortunate to have a couple of weeks as a company to rally behind the 48 to prepare for this, and so we’re looking forward to getting down there and racing for that seventh championship.

Q. Given your background with General Motors and you were around for Dale Earnhardt Sr. when he pulled off the seven championships, and now to see in this generation what has happened, how would you compare the two, and what kind of a feat would it be from Jimmie compared to how it was accomplished during Dale’s generation?

DOUG DUCHARDT: I feel like I’ve heard Richard Petty say this, that each person does ‑‑ accomplishes their feats in racing or in any sport in their generation or in their era. You know, specifically with Dale, I came into the series in ’96, so he had just won his seventh in ’94, but he did that under a system which that team and Dale executed very well and that old points system, and obviously they had the seven championships at the end of that to show for it.

And for Jimmie, they changed the system quickly early in his career to the original Chase system with the 10 races, and accumulating points for the 10 races, and Jimmie excelled at that format. The team, Chad and Jimmie and the 48 team excelled at that format against extremely good competition, and so now I think interestingly we have a different format, and the first time he’s eligible to run for the championship in the last race.

I think they’ve done it each in their own era, and I think if Jimmie could do it this weekend I think it would be unique in that he’s done it with different points systems to get his seventh.

Q. Doug, I’m curious, how do you assess this season for Hendrick Motorsports overall where even though you have a driver in the Championship Round, the organization could finish with the fewest wins and fewest top 10s in more than a decade? And when you look at how you assess the season, what are the things that you’re focused on moving forward to next year to have even better results?

DOUG DUCHARDT: Well, I feel like any of these seasons, and I say it whenever I’m interviewed, is that they are a marathon. We started off fairly strong early on. Definitely in the summer months we did not perform very well, and then we were thrown a bit of a curve ball with Dale’s injury in the middle of July, and so we had to address that as a company.

I feel like we worked really hard from the beginning of August as a group. We came back from Watkins Glen and had a focused effort beginning with Mr. Hendrick on down on we’re going to lock arms and we’re together to get better, and that was everyone. That was from him to me to the four crew chiefs to the 600 employees here, and then we had really six drivers in the mix when you think about it. We had Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman added to the four that we started the year with, and I feel like all of us have rallied together to get better, and I think that the results of those efforts started to show as the Chase started and has continued to show, including last weekend, where I felt like we had four very solid cars at Phoenix with Alex leading the most laps, but the first run we were running first, second and fifth.

I think we’ve shown strength with all four cars here in the Chase, so I feel very good with the direction that the team is heading as we look into next year and feel like we’re on the right trajectory and have a lot of momentum as we end the year.

Q. Of all the years you’ve been there, and you talk about each year is a marathon, each year is a challenge, in what way did this year challenge you that other years didn’t with this organization with all that you guys went through?

DOUG DUCHARDT: Well, I think there’s cycles of when you feel like your cars have speed and when you’re just off a little bit, and it doesn’t take much in this sport to be off a little bit. It’s very competitive, and there’s ebbs and flows. And when you get ‑‑ when you feel like, it can feel like you’re never going to be able to climb out of that hole. There’s times that you’re trying to figure out why it is that you’re not as good as you want to be.

You know, we were fortunate that we worked in every area, and I think that all that work paid off.

We’ve had other tough years. I guess if I think back to my time here, obviously I think 2005 was one that the company struggled, and obviously they had overcome a tragedy the end of 2004, and it took some time to gain our momentum back, and then after ’05 we saw what happened from ’06 in the next five years with Jimmie and the team.

I think it’s just part of the ebbs and flows of how tough this sport is, and I’m proud of the work that everyone did to get us back to where we’re competing for a championship at Homestead.

Q. With four great drivers, three great teams, this thing is so closely matched; what do you think decides it? What do you think will determine which of the four wins on Sunday?

DOUG DUCHARDT: I think the first thing is the team that has the fewest mistakes is going to set themselves up to be successful. As competitive as these races are, a speeding penalty or a bad restart or a cut tire, anything of that nature can be difficult to overcome, not that it’s impossible. But as you mentioned with the level of competition that’s going to be down at Homestead, I think that minimizing your mistakes is going to be key, and then obviously it’s just having a fast car and optimizing it through the race.

But I think the key is going to be minimizing your mistakes through the race.

Q. I had a question on the bulletin that came out last week on truck trailing arms and the mounting slugs. How big a deal was that? Does it require any changes to your cars, and will it impact any of the wind tunnel data you had on those cars that you had gotten in recent weeks?

DOUG DUCHARDT: That was not a significant issue for us.

Q. I wanted to ask you a little bit about Jimmie and kind of your take on his demeanor going into this. He hasn’t had a chance to try and win number seven the last couple of years. Does he seem different going into this championship finale, or how do you kind of assess where he is right now?

DOUG DUCHARDT: I think one of the things that ‑‑ one of the aspects of Jimmie that’s underestimated is how strong his mental toughness is. He savors these opportunities. He looks forward to challenging himself and being prepared for this, and so Jimmie is just the kid from El Cajon that’s California cool. I never see him flustered in these situations. He embraces it. He’s looking forward to it, and Jimmie at Homestead is really not much different than Jimmie in Daytona. He’s pretty even keel through the season.

He’s been through it before. He’s been in these situations multiple times, and I know that he’s looking forward to strapping in at Homestead and getting after it.