Team owner Rick Hendrick made a radical choice for his Hendrick Motorsports team heading into the 1986 season. After two years and three wins as a single-car team, Hendrick Motorsports became a two-car operation.
The reasoning behind the move was simple: Hendrick had a sponsor who wanted to enter the sport, and a driver and crew chief who were no longer working well together, so he saw a second car as the logical way to grow his team and improve team chemistry.
There was one small problem with the choice, though, as nothing in NASCAR's recent history told Hendrick the concept would work. Quite the contrary was true, because two-car teams were notorious for upsetting drivers and upending team chemistry. Junior Johnson had the sport's only sustained two-car effort at the time, and his team's performance was waning, despite Darrell Waltrip's Winston Cup title in 1985.
Now, 19 years after Hendrick formed Hendrick Motorsports and 17 years after he chose the two-car concept, Hendrick has become one of the sport's most successful owners, with five Winston Cup championships, more than 100 wins, a showcase complex near Charlotte, North Carolina, and four cars competing full-time on the circuit. The concept not only worked, but multi-car teams have become the preferred method of doing battle in Winston Cup.
So did Hendrick's peers see him as a visionary who foresaw the future of the sport?
"No, because I spent so many years with people telling me how dumb I was and that I would never win a champion-ship by running multi-car teams," he says.
However, the number of one-car teams running the circuit full-time today has diminished. And only one single-car team reached victory lane in the first part of this season, after single-car operations were winless in 2002.
One-car teams are dying a slow death in Winston Cup racing and have been for several years.
Multi-Car SuccessAs multi-car teams have found their way to victory lane, single-car teams have, conversely, found the path to success more and more difficult. Of the 10 race winners during the 1993 season, for example, seven were from one-car teams, including Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt, the top winners that season. Just five years later, though, the trend had reversed, with seven of the 11 race winners coming from multi-car teams, including Hendrick Motorsports' Jeff Gordon, who led the way with 13 wins, and Roush Racing's Mark Martin, whose seven victories were second on the list.
Eleven different drivers won during the 1999 season and 14 in 2000, but none were from one-car teams. A record 19 different drivers won in 2001 but only one, Elliott Sadler, was from a single-car team. Sadler's employer at the time, however, was Wood Brothers Racing, which has had an alliance with Roush Racing for several years.
Following Sadler's win at Bristol in March of 2001, nearly two years passed before another single-car team found victory lane. That came during March of this year when Ricky Craven put the Cal Wells No. 32 Pontiac into victory lane at Darlington, nine days shy of the two-year anniversary of Sadler's Bristol win. Note, though, that Craven barely beat Kurt Busch of the Roush Racing juggernaut.
Buoyed by the Darlington victory, Craven spent several weeks in the Top 10 in points during the early part of the season-Wells' first with Pontiac after fielding Fords for three seasons.
"To be honest," says Wells, "I think that if we were a two-car team we would be running that much better with Pontiac."
Wells actually fielded a two-car team for half of the 2001 season, before sponsor McDonald's pulled out, forcing the team to go back to the one-car concept. Wells, in an attempt to grow his team back to two cars, has searched for additional sponsorship since the McDonald's pullout, to no avail.