As each of the first five weeks of the current Sprint Cup season has gone by, one question has continued to increase in frequency and urgency: What's wrong with Hendrick Motorsports? The same organization that has claimed the last two Cup season championships and won an incredible 18 of 36 races last season has yet to reach victory lane in 2008. If statistics and past history are any indication, HMS will not be 0-for-6 after Sunday's Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
As each of the first five weeks of the current Sprint Cup season has gone by, one question has continued to increase in frequency and urgency: What's wrong with Hendrick Motorsports? The same organization that has claimed the last two Cup season championships and won an incredible 18 of 36 races last season has yet to reach victory lane in 2008. If statistics and past history are any indication, HMS will not be 0-for-6 after Sunday's Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. If there's any track that Hendrick drivers Jeff Gordon and defending two-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson have dominated at, it's the little half-mile bullring in southern Virginia. In 30 career starts on NASCAR's oldest active race track, Gordon has seven wins as well as 18 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes. He comes into Sunday's race ranked 14th in the points standings. Johnson, meanwhile, is one spot ahead of Gordon in the standings in 13th place. He has just 12 career starts at NASCAR's smallest-capacity oval track (65,000 seats), with four wins (including the last three races held there), plus eight top-five and 11 top-10s. All told, Gordon and Johnson have combined to win eight of the past 10 races at Martinsville. Newcomer Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is currently the highest-ranked HMS driver in the Cup standings (fifth place), hasn't been half-bad at Martinsville during his previous stint with former team Dale Earnhardt Inc., either. While Junior has yet to win his first race there, he has seven top-five finishes in 16 career starts. Add all those numbers together, and the odds seem very strong in favor of the Hendrick crew to finally break through to victory lane for the first time in 2008. "We certainly are not in a panic," Gordon said. "I feel great about our race team. (We're) doing what we need to be doing right now. We are just going to keep trying to push it and be better." Martinsville has been the site of many exciting races over the years, but none more dramatic in recent memory than last April's race. In only the second race for the new-fangled Car of Tomorrow, Johnson and Gordon took part in a fierce fender-banging battle in the closing laps before Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet got the final upper hand. That's exactly the same scenario we're likely to see this Sunday. And with Earnhardt now in the mix, we could see a Hendrick version of what we saw in the last Cup race, two weeks ago at Bristol: a one-two-three finish by the same team. At Bristol, it was Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer who crossed the finish line one after the other for the first time in RCR team history. Sunday at Martinsville, there's a very good chance that the top three Hendrick drivers could equal RCR's performance at Bristol. And, who knows, the fourth Hendrick driver, Casey Mears, may even wind up getting into the mix, potentially meaning a 1-2-3-4 HMS domination. It won't be easy, though. Martinsville is known to be the hardest track on the circuit on tires and brakes. And with the new car still getting the kinks worked out, especially on short-to-medium-size tracks, Sunday's race could be anything from an easy ride in the country to a downright free-for-all. Johnson, who has admittedly struggled early on, is primed to get back into his Martinsville groove for Sunday. "Once the race starts, it always comes back to me," Johnson said. "I know what I'm looking for, and I know what that rhythm is for the 500 laps we make there, and I can usually get good performances out of it." If a Hendrick driver does not win at Martinsville, then concern over what's wrong may suddenly have some merit. But if Johnson, Gordon or Earnhardt have anything to say about it, people will go from asking when will HMS finally win this season to how many more are they going to win from here. The likely answer: a lot. Jerry Bonkowski is National NASCAR Columnist for Yahoo! Sports (Yahoo.com) and a featured contributor for Gatehouse News Service. He can be reached at NASCARColumnist@Yahoo.com. MARTINSVILLE MEANDERINGS - Martinsville awards one of the most unique trophies to race winners in all of sports: a custom-made grandfather's clock. - Next to the close and exciting racing, Martinsville is also known for its famous "Martinsville Dogs:" Jesse Jones-brand bright red hot dogs (thanks to extra red dye coloring) with a hearty covering of chili, mustard, onions and slaw. Oh, yeah, and they're only two bucks each! - Martinsville Speedway is celebrating its 60th year of racing. It's the oldest track on the Sprint Cup circuit.