It's difficult to deny that Hendrick Motorsports is a NASCAR powerhouse at many tracks, including the site of this weekend's TUMS Fast Relief 500, Martinsville (VA) Speedway. The four-car Hendrick team - Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne - has 13 wins (Gordon with seven and Johnson with six) and 65 top 10 finishes between them at "the paperclip." Johnson has the best average finish at the track (5.8), while Gordon has seven poles, just one shy of tying Darrell Waltrip for the track record.
Gordon goes into Martinsville in eighth-place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, 51 points behind leader Brad Keselowski and still searching for his fifth Cup Series title (he won his last one in 2001). He knows the road ahead is tough, but vows to never give up - an attitude that got him into the Chase in the first place.
"It was about two or three races ago that I said it's going to take a miracle," Gordon said in a recent NASCAR teleconference. "It's going to take an even bigger miracle now for us to win number five. We had the issue in Chicago that got us far behind. But we're making great strides at coming back. If a couple two or three guys at the front had faltered, then we had a shot at it. Unfortunately, then we faltered in Charlotte, and we just missed the set-up. I was speeding down pit road, and that ultimately cost us a lot of points. Then in this past weekend a 10th place finish. Those just aren't good enough results to make up the points that we had lost in Chicago. So we never give up. We never quit. We go to every race giving it everything we've got. But obviously the chances are pretty slim of us winning number five this year."
Johnson, chasing title #6 after faltering last season, is just seven point behind Keselowski in second, and is looking forward to a great battle for the title. "To be honest, I didn't see the points after the race in Kansas," said Johnson. "I was so occupied with where I was with the 2 car (Keselowski), I haven't looked. From the sounds of it, it is tight, it is close. That's great. That's what the fans want to see. It's what our sports need. I knew Clint drew closer with his performance at Charlotte. It's go time. It's tough to live it because it's stressful, but this is what we grew up wanting to be part of as kids, racing for a championship and duking it out."
Earnhardt Jr. makes his return to competition at Martinsville after sitting out the last two races with a concussion. While he doesn't have a win at Martinsville yet, he has 14 top 10 finishes in 25 races at the track, and has just one finish outside the top 15 since joining Hendrick Motorsports in the 2008 season. Kahne has his work cut out for him at Martinsville, with just two top 10s in 17 starts at the track. He does, however, have a pole, which he earned in the spring race this year, his first with Hendrick - unfortunately, there's a 38th-place finish to go along with it.
Sources: "Storylines: Martinsville," NASCAR Media, October 23, 2012
"Transcript: NASCAR Cam Teleconferences with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon," NASCAR Media, October 23, 2012
Paula is a long-time NASCAR fan who also covers the sport at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.
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- Brad Keselowski