CONCORD, N.C. – After an exciting start to the year, the first off-weekend of the NASCAR Cup Series season has arrived.
Seven races are in the books, from the Daytona 500 to last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, which saw Jimmie Johnson in Victory Lane and three Hendrick Motorsports drivers earning top-10 finishes.
Tuesday morning, Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt appeared on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and discussed the organization’s start to the 2017 campaign.
“This season is a marathon that we’re in,” Duchardt said. “You have to take it week-to-week and it’s continuous improvement and staying after it.”
To this point, Hendrick Motorsports has earned one win, one pole, six top-five finishes and 10 top-10s.
And while early in the season there were races where the cars were running better than the final results showed, Duchardt was pleased with how the Texas race played out.
“I was really happy not just with Jimmie, but with how we ran as a company and how all the cars that had our engines finished,” he said. “I felt like it was a very competitive day for us in tough conditions this weekend with a brand-new racetrack.”
He said he hopes it’s a sign of things to come moving forward on the other side of the Easter off-weekend.
"This season is a marathon."GM Doug Duchardt
The series will return to action with a race at Bristol Motor Speedway, a track where the organization has earned 10 wins, most recently courtesy of Kasey Kahne in 2013.
Duchardt noted that Kahne and the No. 5 team had a quick start to the season but may look to Bristol to help get back on track.
“The first three or four (races) I felt that they had a real solid start and were real happy about how things were going,” Duchardt said. “And then the last part of the West Coast Swing we just, I felt like we ran better than where we finished.”
“We have seen the potential in them in the first part of the year,” he continued. “And Bristol has been always a good track for Kasey.”
The No. 24 has also started quickly this season, Duchardt pointed out.
“I think (No. 24 team crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and Chase (Elliott) have really started to click and I think we saw it at the end of last year,” he said. “It’s interesting that a ninth-place finish (at Texas) is a lot of disappointment. So, that’s a good thing, I guess. I think that’s just a really strong combination, that team and Chase, and he’s coming into his own.”
“Just really proud of that group and how they have started the year,” he continued. “They had a good Bristol last fall and I am anxious to see how they do after we get back from break.”
"That’s just a really strong combination, that (No. 24) team and Chase."GM Doug Duchardt
Duchardt said he was not worried about the early season results for Johnson and the No. 48 team, because even as top-10 finishes were eluding the driver, he was still often running inside the top five throughout the races before issues like pit-road penalties arose.
And it all came together at Texas.
“I think there’s no doubt that Jimmie always likes to remind people that maybe he’s not that bad of a driver,” Duchardt smiled. “And that’s what he did Sunday.”
As for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team, Duchardt noted that the fifth-place finish at Texas could be some “good medicine” looking ahead.
“What I look at is we went to a very tough, new track. And anyone that was at the track on Friday saw some of the best drivers in the world struggling to get hold of it with the new configuration and as the track is getting conditioned,” Duchardt explained.
“And through Saturday he got better. I am listening to him on the radio, listening to him in the debrief, you can tell he’s feeling better about the car and has some confidence. And then he drove right up there from the back on Sunday. I am just real happy for them and happy for him that they put together a good race and I think that’s something to build on as we move forward toward Bristol and Richmond.”
Now, the team will get a little time away. And when they return, the Victory Bell will soon make its way around the Hendrick Motorsports campus.
“We’re excited to do it for the first time this year,” Duchardt said.