From the top down, confidence is high at Hendrick Motorsports

USA TODAY Sports

A year after placing four cars in the Chase, Rick Hendrick has raised the bar this season and expects all four teams to contend for the championship.

While the majority of NASCAR frets about the availability of cars and parts for the early part of the season, it's business as usual for Hendrick Motorsports.

The four-car organization isn't at all concerned about being ready for next month's Daytona 500 and is confident with where it's at with the new Gen 6 car. This is in contrast to just about every other team in the garage that finds itself in a mad scramble to build its fleet of cars.

"As a whole, we're more confident this year and we feel we have a shot to win this year. We're as prepared as we've ever been," Hendrick said last week during the Sprint Media Tour. "We fumbled the ball (last year) in the closing minutes of the game and we want to get back to the Super Bowl."

That confidence exhibited by the man whose team has won a NASCAR-best 10 Sprint Cup championships, extends to the outlook he has for the coming season -- to the point he's even more confident than he was at this time a year ago.

This could be a very ominous sign for the competition.

If you recall, it was last year during the Media Tour when Hendrick made the bold proclamation that he expected all four of his cars to make the Chase. And lo and behold, all four teams did just that, combining for 10 victories along the way and coming close to winning several others.

"Last year, he kind of shocked all of us in throwing down the gauntlet by saying all four cars would be in the Chase, and that was a lot of pressure," Jeff Gordon said. "Rick typically in the past is the guy that really didn't make those kinds of demands.

"But when Rick asks for something, we all try to achieve it because he's the kind of guy that you ask him for something, he's going to make it happen."

However, one thing alluded Hendrick last year -- another Cup title. This was in spite of the fact that Jimmie Johnson was leading the standings with two races to go following a victory at Texas.

But a crash at Phoenix due to a blown right-front tire and a mechanical issue at Homestead spelled the No. 48 team's demise as Johnson fell to third in points. And it's that painful way that the season ended that has everyone at Hendrick determined to atone for last season's disappointing end result.

"I think after we left homestead, I think Jimmie, Jeff and I had this conversation - we wished we had a race the next week," Hendrick said. "We had a lot of momentum there."

A new season brings new hope, and with that hope comes the expectation of maintaining the level of success that is the way of life at Hendrick.

Ultimately, the burden of living up to those lofty goals imposed by the man signing checks falls on the four drivers behind the wheels of the Hendrick Chevrolets.

"I'm sure we'll hear about it all year long in our meetings, and that's great," Johnson said. "You know we love to have that; it's a kick in the pants to get things going."

But even without the mandate from his boss, there is one driver at Hendrick is dealing with another kind of pressure this season.

For Gordon it's been 11 years since he last won a championship and not since 2007 has he made a legitimate run at what would be his fifth title. At 41, Gordon is well aware that Father Time is working against him -- only four drivers in history have won a Cup title over the age of 42.

"I've always had the confidence that if we stick with it and I get people who believe in me and I believe in them, we can get that confidence back," Gordon said. "I've been fortunate over the years to be able to do that -- go through the ups and the downs and get that (confidence) back.

Talk of wins and championships mixed with a heavy dose of confidence from the owner on down -- it's just business as usual for Team Hendrick.

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