March 27, 2014 — photo courtesy Getty Images — RIDGEWAY, VA — Hendrick Motorsports is good.
The NASCAR team is 219 wins good. Eleven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships good. Fourteen overall NASCAR national series owner championships good.
And their success has lasted three decades – with winning roots extending all the way to the site of this weekend’s race, at Martinsville Speedway.
In 2014, Hendrick Motorsports is celebrating its 30th anniversary in NASCAR – and this weekend, specifically, its first win in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
On April 29, 1984 at Martinsville, Geoffrey Bodine took his No. 5 Chevrolet to Victory Lane for a single-car operation then known as All-Star Racing.
A year later, the team changed its name to Hendrick Motorsports. Three decades later, that tiny operation has evolved into a four-car juggernaut that has three of its drivers in the current top six in points.
No other major American professional sports organization has more championships than Hendrick Motorsports since 1984. In that time, the Los Angeles Lakers have won eight NBA championships and the Chicago Bulls have recorded six. Both the New York Yankees and Edmonton Oilers have tallied five titles apiece since ‘84.
This weekend, in the STP 500 at Martinsville, Hendrick Motorsports has an outstanding chance to add a bookend win to its 30-plus years in the sport.
Two of its drivers – Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson – sit atop the active wins list at Martinsville, with eight apiece. Johnson won last year’s spring Martinsville race, and Gordon won the fall race at the shortest race track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
They are the undisputed current “Kings of Martinsville” (although Denny Hamlin has scrapped his way into that discussion).
In 24 starts, Johnson has finished outside the top 10 only three times. He has won two of the last three races – and tallied triple-digit laps led figures in each of the last four.
Gordon has finished in the top 10 in 20 of the last 22 races at Martinsville, and finished third and first in last year’s two races.
Hendrick’s other two drivers – Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – likewise have enjoyed success at the Virginia short track. Kahne – who drives the No. 5 that Hendrick first took to Victory Lane – has finished in the top five in two of the last three Martinsville races.
On the subject of Dale Earnhardt Jr., his winless record at Martinsville belies the fact that it’s one of his best tracks. And as far as driver rating is concerned, it’s the best for him, with a 98.9 number – fourth-highest in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville.
This can more-or-less be viewed as a microcosm of Earnhardt’s career – lots of strong runs but surprisingly few victories. At Martinsville, a breakthrough appears imminent, especially considering his strong start to this season.
Earnhardt, second in series points behind Carl Edwards (186 to 185), has five top-10 runs in his last seven Martinsville starts. His overall statistics showing 10 top fives and 15 top 10s in 28 Martinsville races – that’s why Earnhardt has the solid driver rating at a track that has kept many drivers, over the course of many years, from visiting Victory Lane. This success is perhaps indicative of Earnhardt’s affection for short-track racing, which he reminded people of two weeks at Bristol Motor Speedway, saying, “this is where it’s at.”
Earnhardt finished eighth last fall at Martinsville, during a late-season rush that formed the foundation for his immediate rise to contention this year.But he’ll be looking for better luck than he had a year ago at Martinsville’s spring race when he came in leading the series standings but finished 24th and lost the lead to Jimmie Johnson.
Will one of Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers make this weekend a happy anniversary for the man everyone knows as “Mr. H”?
If they happen to, you can bet it’ll be one heck of a party.
The STP 500 takes the green flag on Sunday at 1 PM Eastern live on FOX and the Motor Racing Network.