When it came to Tony Stewart's amazing run in last year's Chase, Jeff Gordon was equally impressed and envious.
Winless in the first 26 races of the season, Stewart roared to five victories in the 10-race Chase, a feat that left the competition scratching their heads as to exactly how he did it. Did the No. 14 team find a mechanical advantage? Was it a case of momentum? Or did everything just fall into place at the right time?
On the other hand, Gordon -- who came into the Chase with four consecutive top-10 finishes, including a win at Atlanta -- never was able to replicate the success he had during much of the year. When you drive the same equipment and share information, there's an inherit curiosity as to the reasons why one team succeeds while the other struggles.
But one thing is for certain: Stewart's championship wasn't a matter of dumb luck.
"I'm a believer in momentum, but not in momentum where you weren't able to win a race to all of a sudden you win five of the 10 final races and the championship," Gordon said. "There's more to it than just momentum."
If Stewart's former crew chief, Darian Grubb, found a mechanical advantage near the end of last season, Gordon said it's something that Hendrick engineers haven't been able to duplicate.
"Clearly they found something, but I can't say definitively what the 'a-ha moment' was," Gordon said. "I'll give Darian and Tony some credit. They should have won Vegas, right? They were the car to beat at Vegas. So let's not forget that. And when they were that strong at Vegas, we were like, 'Whoa!' "
Gordon couldn't make Stewart's Las Vegas setup work on his cars. Surprisingly, neither could Stewart. So when Stewart suddenly got hot in the Chase, the folks at Hendrick were pleased but somewhat puzzled.
"If they stuck with it and finally made a way to make it work for them -- nose weight, wedge, spring rates, all these little things that sometimes add up -- maybe that was it, but there's nothing on paper that stands out," Gordon said.
While the success of a satellite operation is still worthy of celebration at Hendrick, it's also viewed as a challenge. And for Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson, it's a reason to double their efforts to find a way to land Gordon that long-elusive fifth Cup title.
Now that they have a season's worth of experience together, Gordon said it may be up to Gustafson to be more forceful as leader of the team.
"Sometimes you want a guy who can crack the whip," Gordon said. "That's one of the things Alan and I talked about during the offseason. We get along very well together but at the same time, I think we see where we need to push one another.
"I think it's a great combination. I'm very excited about having a year under our belt working together and having a real understanding of what each of us needs to go out there and perform our best this year."
Hendrick Motorsports is one win away from its 200th in Cup competition -- and Gordon definitely would like to be the one to hand that trophy to team owner Rick Hendrick. This will be Gordon's 20th full-time season in Cup, and adding to his already impressive total of 85 wins is high on his wish list.
Plus, when your teammates are five-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne, it's all about bragging rights.
"I think there's a very good and friendly rivalry among us this year, getting win No. 200 and beyond," Gordon said. "I think every year we have a little bit of that internal competition. I think that's what makes us as strong as we are. We don't dislike one another but we want to win.
"We know that we work with one another and get along and share information and laugh about things. But when it comes down to the time when the green flag drops, we take it very seriously."