SPEEDWAY, Ind. - Rick Hendrick, of course, gets the best seat when its celebration time. Such a small perk is typically a given when your construction achieves success - even when those major achievements start to feel like par for the course.
NASCAR's most dominant team owner took the coveted spot again Sunday afternoon as the shining white Chevrolet Camaro rolled by the grandstands of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. All around Hendrick had to feel like measured and joyous chaos, as every spare inch of the two-door were his employees reveling in yet another Brickyard victory. Driver Jimmie Johnson sat to one side and celebrated with his family plus crew chief Chad Knaus. Elsewhere, from the hood to the trunk were Johnson's team members joining in the celebration.
The ride around the track to celebrate with fans still in the grandstands is a rite of passage for winners at Indianapolis and since NASCAR arrived to the 2.5-mile oval in 1994, no one has completed the celebratory journey more than Hendrick. Sunday's verifiable domination of the Brickyard 400 by Johnson marked Hendrick's eighth win in 19 Indianapolis NASCAR races.
"Every time you come here, you know how important this place is," Hendrick said. "And everybody wants to win here because of the unique history of this place and how many legends in racing have raced here."
Quickly and assuredly, Hendrick is building his own status as a legend at Indianapolis in the role of team owner. With Johnson's win, he joins teammate Jeff Gordon as the only drivers with four Indianapolis victories. Six of those have come since 2001. Such an output and such a dominance - Johnson and Gordon alone have led 20 percent of the laps contested at Indy - would make it easy to assume Hendrick places extra emphasis on winning at a place that carries more prestige and pays more money than most other tracks.
Not so, Hendrick said.
"We don't put any more effort in - you can't put anymore effort in than we do here," Hendrick said after the race.
Instead, he says it's a testament to his Hendrick Motorsports operation. Just a single Sprint Cup season has elapsed since the NASCAR world was immersed in Johnson's streak of five consecutive series championships.
"I think we don't look at Indianapolis as 'Let's just put all our effort into Indianapolis,' because they all pay the same points," Hendrick said. "Although, you know, you want to win these special events, but to win a championship you've got to be good everywhere."
Winning Indianapolis, though, has been a typically accurate barometer of championship success for Hendrick. Johnson's first three wins at Indianapolis came in years that he would go to win the title, and Gordon has won the season championship twice after winning the Brickyard.
"Every track is important, but we do run well here and we've been able to win eight of these things," Hendrick said. "But when we come back next year, it's going to be a brand new ballgame."
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