NASCAR SPRINT CUP

HMS forever linked with track

Whether or not the Hendrick team wins its 200th race, Martinsville is reminder of tragedy

The Charlotte ObserverMarch 30, 2012 

— Could Hendrick Motorsports earn its 200th Sprint Cup Series win on Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway?

Somehow, it seems appropriate.

HMS and its four Cup drivers — Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne — would all certainly prefer to have a victory already.

Any of them would have been HMS’ 200th series victory — a milestone matched by one other Cup organization, Petty Enterprises, in NASCAR history.

Yet the next opportunity for HMS to reach that mark is now reserved for Martinsville, a track that has brought out the best in the organization and where it suffered its worst tragedy.

HMS earned its first Cup win at the Virginia short track in April 1984 with driver Geoffrey Bodine. In the years since, HMS has won 17 other times at the track.

On no other track in NASCAR has HMS won more races. The next-closest is Charlotte Motor Speedway, with 16 victories.

The milestone is important to team owner Rick Hendrick.

“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,” he 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.

“When you think about 200 wins — it’s unbelievable.”

Accomplishing that feat may help ease the pain, but certainly not diminish, the tragedy of October 2004.

In the hours prior to the start of that race, an HMS plane carrying two pilots and eight passengers, including Rick Hendrick’s son, brother and two nieces, crashed into a mountain, killing all on board.

To have the opportunity to reach the 200-win plateau on the same track where Hendrick first visited Victory Lane seems unlikely.

But considering Hendrick’s current driver lineup, perhaps not.

While Earnhardt and Kahne own no wins at Martinsville, between them Gordon (seven) and Johnson (six) have 13 wins.

Johnson is the most recent winner, in 2009, and also won three straight races at the track at one point. Gordon’s most recent victory came in 2007.

Gordon earned the organization’s 50th win in 1996 at Darlington and its 100th in 2001 at Michigan.

“To just get 100 wins and be able to do that for Rick meant a lot to me personally and our team. Obviously, the speed at which the next 100 happened is pretty incredible,” Gordon said.

“You look at what Jimmie Johnson has brought to our organization and you look at all the drivers who have contributed to those next 100 wins — it has been amazing.

“I know each driver at Hendrick Motorsports wants to get that 200th win for Mr. Hendrick because we know that is going to be a very special day.”

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