2004 Season Recap
- Dec 08, 2004
- Team Hendrick
The 2004 season marked one of the most successful years for Hendrick Motorsports on the track. From the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, to the NASCAR Busch Series, and the ARCA Series, the organization’s Chevrolets rolled into Victory Lane at all three levels of competition.
On the NEXTEL Cup side, drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon continued to have strong showings on the track, racking up 13 combined victories over the course of the year. Johnson and Team Lowe’s Racing scored Hendrick’s first win at NASCAR’s most elite level with a triumph in the spring at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
The 2004 season would prove to be a year of “sweeps” for the No. 48 Lowe’s team as they won both NEXTEL Cup events at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Darlington Raceway. Johnson and his crew would go on to finish second in championship points, marking the second year in a row they finished the title chase in the runner-up spot.
“It was an incredible season for this whole Lowe’s team,” Johnson says. “We won a lot of races and that’s something I’m very proud of.
“I set a personal goal to try to win five races this year, and then to win eight, and four in the Chase is pretty amazing. We were eight points away from the championship. I’m definitely disappointed in that, but we did all that we could.”
Gordon and the DuPont team began 2004 with back-to-back wins at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and California Speedway. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolets would take the checkers three more times over the course of the season, scoring a road course win at Infineon Raceway, taking the July Pepsi 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and cementing his fourth triumph in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August.
The No. 24 DuPont team would go on to place third in NASCAR’s “Chase for the Championship,” one spot behind teammate Johnson.
“We did everything that we knew to do. I’m so proud of everybody on this DuPont team,” Gordon says. “It was a great year for us. I wish we could have won the championship, but we gave it everything we had.”
The season also marked Brian Vickers’ first full year in NEXTEL Cup competition after scoring Hendrick Motorsports’ first Busch Series championship in 2003. Vickers led the No. 25 GMAC Racing team to two pole positions during the year. The first came in spring event at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and the second in the fall event at California.
“It’s been a pretty exciting year,” Vickers said. “It’s definitely had its ups and downs, but all and all, this team has stuck together.”
“Some of our goals have been met and others probably have not. That doesn’t mean 2004 was unsuccessful. The biggest thing is what we take away from this season to make us better.”
Terry Labonte rounded out his last full season of Cup Series competition with a slew of top-10 finishes en route to a 26th-place finish in the points. Next year will mark the beginning of Labonte’s “Shifting Gears” tour, where he will run 10 races during season and then another 10 in 2006.
“This is something I’ve thought long and hard about,” Labonte says. “Though I still have the desire to compete, another 36-race grind isn’t all that appealing. After more than two decades, this is the best of both worlds.”
On the Busch Series front, rookie Kyle Busch and Team Lowe’s Racing scored five wins, five poles, and 22 top-10 finishes, which secured the runner-up spot in the championship standings. Along the way, Busch broke numerous rookie records and in the end he cemented the highest points finish ever by a rookie in series competition.
“If you would have asked me before Daytona, I probably would have said we’ll finish in the top-five,” says Lance McGrew, 2004 crew chief of the No. 5 Lowe’s Chevrolets. “We’ll win a race or two, but five races, five poles? I mean, what can you say? It’s awesome.”
Busch was selected as the Busch Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year, a title he hopes to earn next year in the NEXTEL Cup Series when he takes the wheel of the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolets.
“To bring in a Raybestos Rookie of the Year award and to go out there and challenge for the championship and end up second by only a little bit is awesome,” Busch says. “We’re real proud of the way that everything has gone this year.”
The Hendrick Motorsports development drivers also contributed to the win column, with Blake Feese scoring two wins at the ARCA level in Kentucky and Talladega and Kyle Krisiloff going to Victory Lane on the circuit at Chicago in September.
When the 2004 season concluded, car owner Rick Hendrick announced key personnel changes affecting each of his organization’s stock-car teams going into the 2005 NASCAR campaign.
“With a new shop opening and drivers moving to different teams, it made sense for us to look at our organizational structure in a different light,” says Hendrick. “These changes will create more opportunities for our folks and help us work together more efficiently.”
Racing veterans Jim Long, Lance McGrew and Peter Sospenzo will each assume fresh responsibilities next season, while lead engineer Alan Gustafson has been promoted to crew chief. As part of the restructuring effort, team executive Brian Whitesell will also transition into a new role.
Gustafson has been named crew chief of Hendrick’s No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolets. After leading the No. 5 NEXTEL Cup team for the past three years, Long will slide into the crew chief position with the No. 5 Lowe’s-sponsored NASCAR Busch Series operation.
McGrew has been named crew chief of the NEXTEL Cup No. 25 GMAC Financial Services team, a move that reunites him with driver Brian Vickers.
A three-time winner on the NEXTEL Cup circuit, Sospenzo will work exclusively with two-time Cup Series champion Terry Labonte as crew chief of the new No. 44 Hendrick Motorsports team, which will attempt a 10-race schedule in 2005.
Whitesell will take on the newly created position of team manager for the Nos. 5, 25 and 44 NEXTEL Cup teams. He most recently held an identical post with Hendrick Motorsports’ Nos. 24 and 48 efforts.
Shop foreman Mark Thoreson and lead engineer Darian Grubb will share Whitesell’s former duties with the “24/48” operation.
With the new changes made and a terrific year of competition in the books, the organization is looking forward to another successful campaign under the Hendrick banner in 2005.