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2014 NASCAR Preview: Hendrick Motorsports

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COMMENTARY | Hendrick Motorsports returns for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with the same lineup as 2013, including six-time and defending champ Jimmie Johnson, four-time champ Jeff Gordon, most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and another fan-favorite in Kasey Kahne.

There is one new face on the scene, however, and he'll be driving for Junior's JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series this year. Development driver Chase Elliott, son of 1988 Cup Series champ Bill Elliott, brings a strong pedigree and track record up from the ARCA Racing Series and Camping World Truck Series.

Jimmie Johnson - After taking a couple years off, Johnson was back at the top of the Chase in 2013, with six wins, 24 top-10s and three poles in 36 races. In typical Johnson fashion, he dominated the Chase, finishing no worse than 13th in the 10-race playoffs. Nothing will change in 2014: It's still Jimmie and Chad (Knaus, crew chief), still the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet and still the driver everyone wants to beat.

Jeff Gordon - Gordon was once the driver everyone wanted to beat, and he's still one of the top drivers in NASCAR. His sixth-place finish in points (after making the Chase on a "technicality," if you will) in 2013 was his best finish since 2009 (third), but his statistics weren't as good as 2012 -- just one win and eight top-5s in 2013 compared to two wins and 11 top-5s in 2012. At 42, he's slowed down a little, but he can still show the kids how to be consistent.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior went winless in 2013, but still pulled off a fifth-place finish in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, his best showing since 2006 (fifth). Much like his teammate Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. has become a model for the consistent run, with 22 top-10 finishes in 36 races -- the most of his career. The leader of Junior Nation will hit the big 4-0 later in the season, and the opportunities to win a championship are slipping away quickly.

Kasey Kahne - After finishing an impressive fourth in 2012, Kahne backpedaled in 2013, finishing 12th in the Chase thanks to three finishes outside the top 15. Kahne is a versatile driver, with wins on the four different track styles the Cup Series races on (superspeedways, speedways, short tracks and road courses), but has yet to reach the potential we saw back in 2006 when he won six races but had another bad Chase outing.

Chase Elliott - The 18-year-old Elliott doesn't have to live up to his father's track record -- he's already made one for himself. Ten top-10 finishes in 11 ARCA starts (including one win at Pocono) and seven top-10s in nine Truck Series starts (including one win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) were added to his already-impressive resume over the last two seasons, leading everyone to see what Rick Hendrick was thinking when he signed the second-generation driver as a barely turned 15-year-old.

His Truck Series win came at the expense of Ty Dillon, which should make for an interesting storyline in the Nationwide Series, since Dillon is also competing for Rookie of the Year in the series.

Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.

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