Hendrick Seeks Milestone Victory

Rick Hendrick

Hendrick Motorsports scored its first Sprint Cup victory at Martinsville in 1984. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Hendrick Motorsports is still after its 200th career Sprint Cup Series win that could come Sunday in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Should one of the four Hendrick drivers – Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon or Kasey Kahne – roll into Victory Lane in Sunday’s sixth race of the season, they would give team owner Rick Hendrick his coveted 200th win in NASCAR’s top division.

It would be an emotional accomplishment to be sure if it did come at the half-mile Virginia oval. Hendrick Motorsports scored its first Cup triumph at Martinsville in 1984.

However the track also holds the devastating memory of the 2004 plane crash that took the lives of 10 people including Hendrick’s brother John and son Ricky among others.

With all of that as a backdrop, it would be fitting if Hendrick was able to reach the 200 win plateau this weekend.

“You know, when I look through all the pictures, since the beginning of Hendrick Motorsports, and I look at the wins, and I remember the celebrations, I can remember vividly that I didn’t know if I’d ever win one race,” Hendrick said. “I know there were some years where I thought, ‘Are we going to win a race this year?’ When you say you’ve won a race in the Cup Series, you’ve accomplished something; but when you think about 200 wins – it’s unbelievable.”

Adding to the drama is the possibility of Earnhardt bringing home the celebrated win. Currently ranked third in the Sprint Cup Series point standings, Earnhardt has been running very well in 2012 and comes to Martinsville off a third-place finish last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

Earnhardt is a fan of the short track and believes he has what it takes to roll into Victory Lane on Sunday to snap his more than three-year winless drought.

“I look forward to going to Martinsville,” he said. “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 battle for the win.”

Gordon is also a candidate for a Martinsville win, something he has accomplished seven times in his career.

He believes experience at a track that hasn’t changed much over the years will be beneficial to a good outing on Sunday.

“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,” Gordon said. “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.”

Then there’s Johnson, who has virtually owned Martinsville over the last decade. He has six wins in 20 starts and racked up 14 top 5 and 18 top-10 finishes along the way.

“I do have a lot of success at Martinsville, but it took me a few tries to get it right,” Johnson said. “And since then, it’s been a very good track for me. I certainly want to get back to my winning ways there.”

In order for him to do that, Johnson says he needs to find what worked so well for him when he dominated at Martinsville winning five of six races from 2007 through 2009.

“Martinsville is really rhythm-based,” said Johnson. “That’s me as a driver, and really takes place at any track, but that is one of the tracks where the rhythm is so important and so specific. And I have a very good rhythm for the race in the long run and have always struggled a little bit with qualifying in the short-run rhythm there.

“I feel like I get better each year. I did get a pole there at one point and I hope to find that magic once again when we go back because qualifying is so important.”

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