BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — The NASCAR season is less than half over and already it is fair to ask if anyone can catch Hendrick Motorsports.
After five straight Sprint Cup victories — including three by defending champion Jimmie Johnson — Hendrick now holds the top three spots in the points standings, and even rival driver Brad Keselowski concedes that when it comes to engines, at least, nothing is likely to change.
"We all have got a little bit of work to do because it's pretty obvious that the Hendrick engines are way ahead of everyone else," said Keselowski, who drives for Roger Penske. "Usually that's not something you catch up with in one season. As far ahead as they are right now, they're probably a full season ahead of everyone."
Johnson's victory at Michigan on Sunday was the fifth in a row for Hendrick in a points-paying Cup race, and that doesn't tell the whole story of how dominant the team was. Kasey Kahne, points leader Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also finished in the top seven for Hendrick.
Even other Chevrolet drivers also benefited from using Hendrick motors. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas) and Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi) finished second and eighth.
"I think we were a little off early in the year, and we've been kind of clicking here lately," owner Rick Hendrick said. "Everybody is really putting out a lot of effort right now, and it's paying off."
This is the third time Hendrick has won five straight races. The team accomplished the feat twice in 2007, including a six-race streak. Johnson, of course, has been the series' dominant driver in recent years, with six Cup titles to his credit. He won the championship last year and has surged back into second place in the standings with three wins in the last four races.
Gordon, meanwhile, is atop the standings at age 42, and Earnhardt has two victories this season, his four-year winless stretch from 2008-12 now a distant memory.