Martinsville, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - When the Sprint Cup Series competes at Martinsville Speedway, it's a pretty good bet that a Hendrick Motorsports driver will be going to victory lane.
HMS is celebrating its 30th anniversary in NASCAR this year. On April 29, 1984, the first season for the team then known as All-Star Racing, Geoffrey Bodine won at Martinsville, driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for team owner Rick Hendrick. The team changed its name to Hendrick Motorsports the following year.
In three decades, Hendrick has accumulated 219 wins in NASCAR's premier series. Twenty one of those victories have come at Martinsville, a 0.526-mile oval, which is the shortest racetrack on the series' schedule.
Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion, and Jeff Gordon, a four-time titleholder in the series, lead all active drivers with eight wins each at Martinsville.
With an average finish of 5.333, Johnson has scored 21 top-10 finishes in 24 races at this track. His eighth win here came in last year's spring race.
"Martinsville is one of those races on the schedule I always want to win," Johnson said. "Last year, we had great runs at Martinsville, and it would be an honor to win there once again for Hendrick Motorsports."
Gordon claimed win number-eight at Martinsville last October when he passed Matt Kenseth for the lead with 21 laps to go and then held off Kenseth at the finish by just 0.6 seconds. Gordon has posted 34 top-10 finishes in 42 races here. His average finish at this track is 6.833.
"You have to be aggressive, but you have to be patient," Gordon said of racing at Martinsville. "Martinsville has fairly long straightaways - at least for a half-mile track - with extremely flat, tight corners. You really want to 'roll' into the corners, but it's very easy to overdrive the entry and use too much brake. You also have to 'roll' the center of the corners while getting traction up off [the corners]. Even when you hit a lap perfectly, chances are you are dealing with traffic the very next lap since there are 42 other drivers on this tight track with you."
Gordon, who is currently third in the point standings, and Johnson, sixth in points, have yet to win a race this season.
Last Sunday in Fontana, Calif., Kyle Busch became the fifth different winner in as many Sprint Cup races in 2014. Busch joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona 500), Kevin Harvick (Phoenix), Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas) and Carl Edwards (Bristol) as those drivers who have all but guaranteed themselves a berth in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Will there be a sixth different winner this weekend at Martinsville?
Six different winners to start the season would be a Chase-era record.
Matt Kenseth had struggled at Martinsville throughout his Cup career until last year, his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth led a total of 96 laps before finishing 14th in the spring race and then followed up with a second-place run after leading 202 laps in the fall event.
"Both races were really good here last year," Kenseth said. "We led a few laps in the spring, thought we had a top-five car, but then we pitted [late in the race] and we didn't go anywhere after we pitted," Kenseth recalled. "In the fall race, we ran good. We did everything we could do. We just got beat by somebody [Gordon] that was a little bit better."
Kenseth's teammate, Denny Hamlin, is expected to race at Martinsville after missing last weekend's event in Fontana. Hamlin, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota for JGR, was sidelined due to what the medical team onsite at Auto Club Speedway originally termed a vision problem stemming from a sinus infection. He was taken to a local hospital where doctors found a small piece of metal in his eye. Doctors were able to remove the object, and he felt immediate improvement to his condition. A CT Scan found no other complications.
Hamlin was then evaluated by a doctor in the Charlotte area on Monday. He had a follow-up examination on Wednesday, at which time he was cleared to resume all racing activity without restriction. Hamlin, a Virginia native, has won four Sprint Cup races at Martinsville.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the STP 500.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, March 30. Race: STP 500. Site: Martinsville Speedway. Track: 0.526-mile oval. Start time: 1 p.m. ET. Laps: 500. Miles: 263. 2013 Winner: Jimmie Johnson. Television: FOX. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.