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Fan’s View: Hendrick Motorsports 2012 Preview

One of the most dominating teams in NASCAR for more than 25 years, Hendrick Motorsports has changed its lineup very little over the past few seasons, but welcomes a new face to the drivers' ranks in 2012: 2004 Cup Series Rookie of the Year Kasey Kahne. 2011 was not Hendrick Motorsports best year - for the first time since 2005, Jimmie Johnson was not the champion - but there was progress on other fronts, namely Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2012 is shaping up to be an interesting year for the team, as they see if they can make a return to the top of the standings.

Kasey Kahne - newcomer to the team Kahne announced his hiring in 2010 - without having anything lined up for 2011. He ended up with Red Bull Racing for the season and made a late-season surge, one that saw him earn the most points in the final 10 races of any driver not in the Chase and even winning at Phoenix. In 2012, Kahne takes over the #5 Farmers Insurance/Quaker State Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports, bringing crew chief Kenny Francis with him from Red Bull Racing.

Jimmie Johnson - "Five-Time" couldn't make it six in a row in 2011, finishing a career-worst sixth in final points. Johnson only won twice in 2011 (also a career low), and spent a lot of time bickering with crew chief Chad Knaus over the radio, leading some to wonder if the super-duo would break up soon. They're back together for 2012, and Johnson returns to the track in the familiar #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet.

Jeff Gordon - Gordon had his best season in the win column since 2007, winning three races including his 85th career win, which moved him into sole possession of third on the all-time wins list. He came into the Chase for the Sprint Cup ranked third, but could only muster up an eighth-place finish in the final points standings. He'll be in the #24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont Chevrolet in 2012, with Alan Gustafson calling the shots as crew chief.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - in spite of still not having won a race in 2011, the Junior Nation was at least treated to some better racing on the part of Earnhardt Jr., who made the Chase for the first time since 2008, finishing seventh. The combination of the series' most popular driver (nine consecutive times) and 2011 crew chief Steve Letarte will be together again in 2012, as Junior tries yet again to find his way back to victory lane in the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/United States National Guard Chevrolet.

Paula is a long-time NASCAR fan who also covers the sport at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.