One of the most successful team owners in the Winston Cup today, Rick Hendrick was officially pardoned of his mail fraud conviction for which he served a one-year house arrest sentence.

The head of Hendrick Motorsports, who have won four Winston Cup titles with Terry Labonte (1996) and Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997, 1998) and totalled 96 victories in their first 16 years of competition, was given the pardon by outgoing US President Bill Clinton as part of American Christmas tradition.

The 51 year old spent a full year away from the racetrack for the entire 1998 season whilst serving his sentence in addition to fighting leukaemia, a battle he won that winter.

The pardon is a testament to Hendrick's dignity and strength of character in what was a very trying time and although he pleaded guilty to making illegal payments to the American Honda Co in relation to his highly successful car dealership empire, the response he received when he returned to the pit-wall at Daytona in 1999 was proof that he is still one of the most popular people in the NASCAR paddock.

Hendrick is now back at the helm of his Winston Cup operation, which runs Gordon, Labonte and rising star Jerry Nadeau and although the squad have yet to match their enviable mid '90's record since the boss' return, Hendrick Motorsports will be entering the 2001 season full of optimism as Gordon's young pit-crew continue to gel and Nadeau's confidence grows on the back of his first WC victory.

The team's 2000 victory tally of four (Gordon 3, Nadeau 1) may have been their lowest since 1993 when Ricky Rudd managed just one win for the team in Gordon's Rookie year and Gordon's tenth place in the final standings was his worst since that same season but with Hendrick's health still improving, many people are picking the team to mount a major challenge in 2001.