For a lot of people, when they think of Martinsville Speedway, they think of Hendrick Motorsports (HMS). For starters, HMS scored their first victory there in 1984 by Geoff Bodine. Though beyond that, the track holds special meaning to the team.
Well the win is a positive meaning, 2004 brought forth a not so kind meaning. En route to the race track, a HMS plane crashed, killing 10 people, including Rick Hendrick’s son Ricky and brother. On that day, Jimmie Johnson won the race. The next year in April, Jeff Gordon while well Johnson took the fall race. For the nine races following the plane crash, Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers won seven of the races, including an impressive three in a row by Johnson from October 2006 to October 2007. One of those nine victories in 2009 marked the 25th anniversary of the first victory.
The success by Johnson and Gordon is no surprise as they have both been successful at Martinsville throughout the entire careers.
For Johnson, he has six wins, 14 top fives and 18 top 10s in 20 starts. He will be looking for another solid run as he continues his climb up the point standings following a bad finish at Daytona. Following Auto Club Speedway, he sits nine in points, 39 points behind leader Greg Biffle.
Gordon has seven wins, 25 top fives and 31 top 10s in 38 starts.
“I believe the track, the setups and the tires have changed the least here compared to other tracks over the course of 20 seasons,” Gordon says. “And that’s where experience can really pay off. At other tracks, sometimes you have to reinvent yourself – along with how we reinvent the setups and the aero package that we’re racing – and that’s tough to do. The longer you’re in the sport, the tougher that is to do.
“Somebody like me – who has a lot of experience and who has also had success at a place like Martinsville – can continue to have that success because it’s not all about aerodynamics. It’s not about a spring and shock and sway bar combination that all of the sudden makes your car fly. I feel like Martinsville is that one place that I can go to every time and give good information back to the team to keep us fast throughout the race.”
Like Johnson, he is looking for a good finish as he has struggled to this point this season, now sitting 25th in points, 51 points outside the top 10.
“We’ve had some good performances this year hurt by engine issues or accidents or pit road miscues,” Gordon adds. “But we’ve had fast race cars, and that is always encouraging. We just need to have a ‘complete’ race. And then another one, and then another one. We have a team capable of stringing together a lot of good finishes.”
Their teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne are split as Earnhardt Jr. is good at Martinsville while Kahne is not.
In 24 starts, Earnhardt Jr. has nine top fives and 13 top 10s. Earnhardt Jr. will be looking for his first Grandfather clock trophy as he has been leading HMS this year, currently sitting third in points.
“I look forward going to Martinsville,” he says. “I always have a lot of fun there. I think everybody really enjoys running there. It’s a pretty fun track. We’ve had some good success there. I’m hoping to have a good race like we did last year and maybe have an opportunity to try to be in the battle for the win.”
In contrast, Kahne only has one top five and two top 10s in 16 starts at Martinsville. Another wreck for Kahne this weekend would be a disappointment considering he currently sits 27th in points.
Martinsville seems to be Hendrick Motorsports’ best shot at getting win 200 so hopefully they can pull the pieces together for success.