Tuesday May 28th, 2024 3:37AM

Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing share dominance at Martinsville

By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service

For six years after the turn of the century, Hendrick Motorsports owned Martinsville Speedway, at least in terms of competition on the track.

Jeff Gordon won both 2003 races at the 0.526-mile short track from the pole, embarking on a dominant run during which he and Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson would take the checkered flag in 10 of 13 races.

Hendrick Motorsports will celebrate its 40th anniversary at Martinsville this weekend, with team owner Rick Hendrick serving as honorary pace car driver and Gordon and 1984 Martinsville winner Geoff Bodine performing Grand Marshal duties for Sunday’s Cook Out 400 (3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

It was Bodine’s victory in the eighth race of the 1984 season that kept Hendrick in business. Including that triumph, the organization has accumulated 28 wins at the historic short track, a record for team victories at a single venue.

In recent years, however, Hendrick has been forced to share the Martinsville spotlight with Joe Gibbs Racing. In the fall race of 2009, Denny Hamlin started his own streak of three straight victories at the venerable facility.

In the nine most recent Martinsville races, Hendrick and Gibbs drivers have won four each, the only exception being NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney’s victory for Team Penske in last year’s Playoff race.

Though the four recent Hendrick wins are evenly divided among four drivers—Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, William Byron and defending spring race winner Kyle Larson—Martin Truex Jr. has accounted for most of JGR’s success with three victories to one for teammate Christopher Bell.

Starting with the fall race of 2019, Truex won three of four events at Martinsville. He comes to Sunday’s race after suffering a heart-wrenching loss last Sunday at Richmond, where a late caution gave Hamlin a chance to steal the win.

In 2022, Truex struggled at Martinsville—and elsewhere—in the Next Gen Cup car introduced into the Cup Series that year. Since then, his fortunes have improved dramatically.

“Definitely high confidence going into Martinsville compared to the first year of this car,” said Truex, who led 228 laps at Richmond before finishing fourth after an overtime restart. “To be able to go run like we did at Richmond, it gives me a lot of confidence going forward that our Martinsville stuff should be good.

“I love going there. It’s been a really good track for us over the years, aside from the first year of the Next Gen.”

Note: Given the clear advantages of securing pit stall No. 1, it’s surprising that no Cup driver has won a Martinsville race from the pole position since Johnson accomplished the feat in the spring race of 2013. Hamlin, who leads active drivers with five wins at the paper-clip-shaped track, is the only driver in Sunday’s race who has won at Martinsville from the pole (2010). 

Justin Allgaier leads hungry JR Motorsports contingent at Martinsville

In the first Dash 4 Cash race of the 2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, the incentive for JR Motorsports drivers is clear. They will be competing for the victory, not the $100,000 prize that goes to the Dash 4 Cash winner, in Saturday’s DUDE Wipes 250 at Martinsville Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

No JRM driver finished high enough last Saturday at Richmond to qualify for the initial Dash 4 Cash bonus, which is available to four eligible drivers: Richmond winner Chandler Smith and runner-up Aric Almirola, both of Joe Gibbs Racing; Sunoco rookie leader Jesse Love of Richard Childress Racing; and Parker Kligerman of Big Machine Racing.

Though out of the running for the bonus, JRM’s Justin Allgaier and teammate Brandon Jones are the only former Martinsville winners in the field for Saturday’s race. Allgaier won the 2023 fall race at the 0.526-mile short track.

“It’s great to be returning to Martinsville this weekend,” Allgaier said. “We showed last fall that we were capable of getting to Victory Lane there, and I feel just as confident that we will have a fast Jarrett Chevrolet when we hit the track on Friday (for practice and qualifying).

“(Crew chief) Jim (Pohlman) and this entire No. 7 team has been fighting hard all year long and I know that we will give it everything we have to get a solid finish and be in position for the win come Saturday night.”

Jones hopes to reverse his fortunes after an early engine failure knocked him out of last Saturday’s Richmond event.

“We had great speed in Richmond last weekend but just had some bad luck come our way,” Jones said. “Martinsville has always been a strong track for me, so I am ready to get there and try to turn our luck around.

“I trust this Menards/Atlas Roofing team will give me a fast car like they have all season, so it’s time to get it done.”

One word of caution: there have been 13 different winners in the last 13 Xfinity races at Martinsville, which didn’t host the series between 1994 and 2006 and experienced another gap between 2006 and 2020.

Kenny Wallace was the last repeat winner at the track (1992 and 1994).

Supercars star Cam Waters to make NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck debut

In a case of extremes, 11-time Australian Supercars winner Cam Waters will make his first NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series start in Friday night’s Long John Silver’s 200 at Martinsville Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

At the other end of the spectrum, Waters’ ThorSport Racing teammate, Matt Crafton, will make his record 550th Truck Series start—all consecutive—at the 0.526-mile short track.

Waters follows three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen into the NASCAR ranks. Van Gisbergen won his NASCAR Cup Series debut in last year’s Chicago Street Race and now competes full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“I’m absolutely pumped, so I’m super excited to be finally having a race over here in a truck,” said Waters, who will drive ThorSport’s No. 66 Ford on Friday. “I’ve always followed NASCAR and done a little valuable stuff myself on dirt in Australia, so to do a pavement oval is pretty cool for me and something I’ve always wanted to do.

“I’ve wanted to do it for years, but with what I do in Australia, (that) has always been my focus and still is my focus, for sure. But we came to Martinsville 12 months ago and watched a race, and that’s what probably sparked a bit more interest in me to pursue it.

“I’ve just been chipping away in the background over the last 12 months to make something happen like this.”

Starting in 2001, Crafton has raced at Martinsville 40 times in the Truck Series, winning twice and posting a record 23 top 10s. The three-time series champion has completed a record 8,736 of a possible 8,915 laps at the vaunted short track.

For the fourth time since the inception of the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series in 1995, the first five races of the season have produced five different winners and five different pole sitters.

Corey Heim, winner of the Mar. 23 race at Circuit of The Americas, leads the series by eight points over second-place Ty Majeski and by nine points over third-place Tyler Ankrum.

The last 10 Truck Series races at Martinsville have produced 10 different winners. Heim is the defending winner of Friday night’s event.

  • Associated Categories: Sports, NASCAR News, NASCAR Cup, Xfinity Series
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