The most successful race team of NASCAR's modern era has created a new position to oversee its racing operations -- and promoted a familiar name to fill it.
Doug Duchardt, the longtime General Motors executive who joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2005, was named Tuesday as the organization's executive vice president and general manager. The new role puts the 49-year-old Duchardt in charge of all Hendrick's racing activities -- a spectrum that includes teams, engines, car construction, research and development, pit crews and engineering.
"Doug has led by example from his first day with us," team owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. "We're in a competitive and ever-changing industry, and he brings a global view that will be critical to our long-term success. Doug shares the organization's values, understands the importance of relationships and has helped promote a culture of teamwork and communication. We know those are things he will lean on and grow in the years to come."
A native of Morton, Ill., Duchardt joined Hendrick as vice president of development. In that position, he directed engine, vehicle engineering, chassis and body operation. In addition to overseeing competition, his new role will also include managing technical relationships such as engine leases and chassis purchases, as well as serving as primary liaison between Hendrick and NASCAR's competition group.
Hendrick is the most successful race team in modern NASCAR history, having won 214 races and 10 championships in the Sprint Cup Series since being founded as All-Star Racing in 1984. Ken Howes, Hendrick's vice president of competition, will remain in that role and report to Duchardt, who in turn will report to Hendrick and company president Marshall Carlson. Duchardt, Howes and Carlson formed the team's management core after president John Hendrick was among 10 people killed in the crash of a company plane en route to Martinsville Speedway in late 2004.
Hendrick has since grown into an organization comprised of several hundred employees based on a sprawling campus north of Charlotte. In addition to its own four-car race operations with drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, it also builds its own engines in-house, and supplies engines and chassis to other teams such as Stewart-Haas Racing.
"I think with that scope, I think it makes it a little easier to manage with one focal point," Duchardt said by telephone. "A little over eight years ago, Marshall and Ken Howes and I were put together to manage the company ? in a difficult transition after Martinsville. And we worked very closely together through the years in doing that. This allows Marshall to free up and go manage the business side of our company. And Ken and I have had and will continue to have a very close relationship in managing the competition side of the company."
Duchardt said he was told of the move about three weeks ago, while Hendrick employees were informed Tuesday in one of the company's quarterly meetings. "I think it's just the natural evolution of our leadership," Duchardt said. He will also be the conduit to Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR's vice president for innovation and racing design, who will take on an increased role as the sanctioning body modernizes its competition department. Duchardt oversaw Hendrick's development of the past two versions of Sprint Cup car, including the Generation-6 implemented this year.
"There were some times when NASCAR personnel would talk to me about something, and I wasn't totally familiar with it because it was in Ken's area, or vice versa," Duchardt said. "? So when there's a meeting called on the next step on cars or engines, it allows one person from our company to go represent us."
Duchardt is a fixture at the race track who has been on board for 84 race wins and five championships at Hendrick, helping the team owner to delegate day-to-day responsibilities in the area of competition.
"The way the sport's evolved, Rick has an interest in some of the development items we're working on. I think it's his interest because he loves cars, and loves to hear about new engine items or new specifications coming together, or new ideas as to how we're improving our cars," Duchardt said. "But from a day-to-day standpoint, he has empowered Ken and myself to manage that. He's not in the middle of that at all, other than a very keen interest if we aren't performing well."
Duchardt added that crew chief Steve Letarte "has addressed" the loose wheel that forced Earnhardt to make an unscheduled pit stop in the opening laps Sunday at Indianapolis. He also said the No. 88 car did not suffer from an engine issue late in the event, as the driver hypothesized when he struggled to hold on to sixth place at the end.
"The engine is fine," Duchardt said. "We're looking through some car things right now to try and understand what Dale was feeling. We think what he was feeling was real, and we have to look through our car situation. But the engine was fine. We took it out and re-ran it, and it was every bit as good if not a little better than what it was."
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