Why is Hendrick Testing At Martinsville?

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates tested Tuesday and Wednesday at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - There is a symmetry with Hendrick Motorsports’ test schedule this season even if it wasn’t planned that way.

Three of its four tests at Cup tracks will take place at flat tracks - New Hampshire, Martinsville and Phoenix.

Today, Hendrick teams complete their two-day Martinsville test.

Hendrick’s choices are interesting since half the Chase races are at 1.5-mile tracks and the organization is saving only one test for such a track, Homestead-Miami Speedway.

While Hendrick’s cars have been strong on 1.5-mile tracks - the organization has two wins and placed all four cars in the top 10 in three of the five races on such tracks - five organizations tested this week at Chicagoland Speedway and more are scheduled to test at other 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase.

Testing at Martinsville might seem odd for Hendrick since its cars have won three of the last four races there and Jimmie Johnson finished second with Dale Earnhardt Jr. third there in March. One of the reasons why Team Penske planned to test at Martinsville was to break Hendrick’s stranglehold there.

Jeff Gordon, who won at Martinsville last fall, said he’s glad to test there.

“We just recognized that we had some struggles the last time we were here and the tire wear was a big issue,’’ Gordon said. “We felt we need to get and we need to come test.’’

Johnson said a majority of the Hendrick teams wanted to test Martinsville, noting it had been some time since the organization tested there and gathered data.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel while we’re here but are learning a lot,’’ he said.

Hendrick teams have learned their share on flat tracks this year.

“As far as I know there’s no thought process of we need to be better at flat tracks,’’ Gordon said. “But I will say we’ve been awful strong on the bigger, high-speed tracks. I’m glad we’re going to be able to test at Homestead.’’

As for testing at Phoenix, Gordon says that track hasn’t been the best for him since it was repaved. He also notes that Phoenix has proved to be “crucial race in the Chase in the past.’’

A blown tire at Phoenix in 2012 cost Johnson the points lead heading into Homestead. Brad Keselowski benefitted from Johnson’s woes and went on to win the title.

Matt Kenseth entered Phoenix last year trailing Johnson by seven points but saw his title hopes all but end with an ill-handling car. Johnson left Phoenix with a 28-point lead on Kenseth en route to a sixth championship.

With the new Chase format, Phoenix will finalize the four drivers who will race for the championship the following week at Homestead.

As for 1.5-mile tracks, this weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway could feature more of the same success for Hendrick. How much that helps for the Chase, though, is debatable.

“Although it’s getting more and more like Homestead, the surface down at Homestead is not as abrasive, but as slick ... so we might be able to take a little bit from Atlanta to what we apply at Homestead,’’ Gordon said.

“Whoever has got the best aero package and ... setup together for the mile-and-halves more than likely will run good at Atlanta this weekend, but it is unique and different. The wheel spin and how you manage the tires and slide the car around, sometimes that can play a bigger factor in that mile-and-a-half that you don’t see play out as in as many as the mile-and-a-halves.’’

“I’m anxious to see how the Penske cars are there, they’ve been strong and they’ve been tough to beat.’’

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