199 wins in the books, and seeking number 200. That’s the position Hendrick Motorsports finds itself in heading into Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. A track that has brought tears of joy, and of sorrow to the organization in their 28 year history in NASCAR.
Back in April, 1984, Geoff Bodine would give team owner, Rick Hendrick, his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series(then Winston Cup) victory at Martinsville Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports would go on to claim nine more victories at the Virginia half mile before that fateful day in 2004.
As Jimmie Johnson took grabbed HMS’ tenth checkered flag at Martinsville, ten people associated with the HMS organization would lose their lives in a plane crash near the speedway.
By now, most people know the story of how the entire HMS organization honored the memory of their fallen friends and family by winning the next race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and carrying that wave of togetherness and support all the way to the season finale in Homestead where they would fall just short of the title.
With the NASCAR circuit making the stop at the Martinsville Speedway this weekend, HMS finds themselves with their best opportunity of the season to grab that elusive two-hundredth win as seemingly each of their four cars has every reason to believe they can be the one to bring home that win.
Although Kasey Kahne has never heard the chimes of a grandfather clock from Martinsville’s victory lane, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason to be confident. Grabbing the pole for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500, Kahne and his No.5 crew have proven week-in and week-out they have the speed to deliver the win. Up to this point, it’s been a matter of luck separating them from doing so.
A seven-time winner at the half-mile oval in Virginia, Jeff Gordon may very well be on his way to reclaiming his former Martinsville magic. From 1996-2005, Gordon was nearly the consensus with each time NASCAR visited Martinsville. Although he hasn’t won at the track since 2005, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t run towards the front.
Since that time, Gordon has finished in the top-five on numerous occasions. Starting out this weekend with the fastest laps in both practice sessions and the ninth best qualifying time on Saturday, Gordon could be on his way to returning to victory lane for the first time since last September.
HMS’ flagship driver for the past several season, Johnson has asserted him self alongside Gordon as one of the best drivers in Martinsville Speedway history. A six-time Martinsville winner himself, Johnson has been the one of the dominant drivers at the track in recent years. After failing to bring the organization their sixth-straight Cup championship, Johnson and crew could be eyeing their favorite short-track to get them back on their championship climb.
If Dale Earnhardt Jr. had not have been passed for the lead late in last year’s race by Kevin Harvick, all of this talk about win No.200 could all be a thing of the past. Without a win since 2008, NASCAR’s most popular driver may very well be in a place to not only silence the critics, but also deliver an owner who has faithfully stood behind him a banner victory.
If Earnhardt was able to capture win No.200, I’m unsure if “Junior Nation” or HMS would have the bigger victory party.
Everything seems to be in favor of HMS getting win 200 this weekend at Martinsville. Now, it’s just a matter of closing the deal.