MARTINSVILLE, Va. — A team representative for Hendrick Motorsports has carried a box of special hats to each of the past 12 races, including today’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
The hats commemorate the organization’s 200th win in Sprint Cup Series history. The team planned a celebration a long time ago – win No. 199 came Oct. 9 when Jimmie Johnson won at Kansas – so the champagne’s been on ice for a long time.
All four drivers at Hendrick are eager to give their boss the milestone win. Deep down, however, each want to be one to do it – even as the expense of their teammates.
“I mean we would love to win anywhere but we would like to be the team and I think all four teams would like to be the team that would win the 200th win for Rick,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “He does so much for everybody and rarely do you get an opportunity to give something back to him of this kind of magnitude.”
A victory today at the oldest race track on the NASCAR schedule also would move Hendrick into a tie with Petty Enterprises for the most wins at the half-mile short track.
Hendrick currently has 18 wins at Martinsville, including seven by Jeff Gordon and six by Jimmie Johnson.
Kasey Kahne, the newest member of the Hendrick stables, will start on the pole today.
“It would mean a lot to the company, to Rick Hendrick and all the people who are a part of Hendrick Motorsports,” Kahne said of the milestone. “They have been on the verge of that 200th for a while now. They are ready to win it and get over it and start winning more after that. For me to win it would be great.”
Hendrick cars dominated the track in a seven-year span starting in 2003 with 10 victories in 13 races, but the organization hasn’t won since the fall race in 2009.
“We come here with a lot of confidence we love this place,” Jeff Gordon said. “Even though we haven’t won here as much, we still led a lot of laps and at times dominated this race.”
Not only are the Hendrick cars winless in the last 11 races – the final six of the 2011 season and the first five this year – they haven’t been up front lately.
Earnhardt has the best finish of the group with a last-turn pass at the Daytona 500 to finish second. Other than that, the team collectively has just three other top-five finishes.
Kahne has suffered the worst of the three with crashes in three of the first five races.
He starts today’s race ranked 27th in points.