Sunday, October 19, 2008 Updated: October 27, 12:33 PM ET
As long as Martinsville is on Chase schedule, Hendrick Motorsports will rule
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
Charmed season? Jimmie Johnson avoids yet another wreck in the 2008 Chase, this one a sliding Jamie McMurray at Martinsville Speedway.
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- If NASCAR wants to keep the Chase fair, then it has only one option:
Eliminate Martinsville Speedway from the playoff schedule.
OK, that's not going to happen. It shouldn't happen, either. The racing at this half-mile track shaped like a paper clip has become as good as any venue on the circuit, arguably better than at Bristol Motor Speedway since that track was resurfaced.
But Hendrick Motorsports does have a decisive advantage. Jimmie Johnson's win Sunday, which all but ended this Chase drama, was the organization's 17th overall there and ninth in the last 12 races, with Johnson winning four of the last five.
HMS has won the fall race that has been a mainstay of the 10-race Chase all five years, with Johnson taking four and Jeff Gordon one. It took three of the top four spots and four of the top six Sunday, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. second, Gordon fourth and Casey Mears sixth.
If Johnson is "Mr. Martinsville," as Gordon has proclaimed, then the track should be dubbed "HMS Speedway."
Want more proof? Of the 2,500 laps that have been run here in the Chase, an HMS driver has led 1,481 for a whopping 59.24 percent. Johnson has led 731 of 1,500 laps in the last three fall races.
Other organizations don't come here expecting to win. They come here hoping to lose the least number of points possible.
Carl Edwards called his third-place finish a victory.
"We all know how important this place is and how special it is for them," he said.
It's special for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is team owner Rick Hendrick lost his son and nine other family and team members when one of his planes crashed a few miles from Martinsville in 2004.
"It's nice to have all four cars run well so he goes home and knows that we have honored his family and friends in the right way," Johnson said.
But it's not as simple as desire. The HMS cars have discovered a setup that works better than anybody else's. That it typically works for all four teams has been like hitting the lottery.
"I wish our styles crossed enough where we could use and expand that program, but our styles are all different and we end up with different setups trying to get the same results," Johnson said. "So here would be the closest that we would ever have the four cars, and it's nice to see all four run well."
Nice for HMS. Not for the rest of the field.
Particularly nice for Johnson, who is in position to become the first driver since Cale Yarborough (from 1976 to 1978) to win three straight titles.
If he does, Martinsville will be a big reason.
"If it surprises anybody that [Johnson] ran well at Martinsville, they are
crazy," said Jeff Burton, who went from 69 points back in second place to 152 back in third after a 17th-place finish. "They run better here than anyone."
So if NASCAR wants to level the Chase playing field, give Martinsville's race to another track. Give it to Bristol, where there hasn't been an HMS winner since Gordon in 2002, where Johnson has never won and has only three top-10s in the 10 races run there since the Chase began.
"I typically do better at quirky tracks, tracks that need some type of technique," said Johnson, describing Martinsville to a "T." "If it's a rough track and an abrasive track, odd-shaped, whatever it may be, those tracks really fall into my style, and I think it's due to my off-road racing background.
"The tracks where there is a ton of grip and is easy to go fast, I'm just kind of average there. I guess it's probably easier for everyone, and everyone is brave and has confidence and is not scared of much, so they go fast."
So as long as Martinsville is on the Chase schedule the balance of power will stay shifted to HMS and Johnson will continue to collect grandfather clocks, the trophy given to the winner, like most people collect coins or stamps.
"I have some at my office, one at the house, and a really cool warehouse that I've been putting together and collecting things," Johnson said. "... So there's room for another one there."
-- David Newton
Craftsman Truck Series: Benson surges back to points lead as Hornaday runs dry
For 197 laps Saturday afternoon, Kevin Harvick Inc. was having a perfectly fine day in the Craftsman Truck Series' second stop at the tricky half-mile in Martinsville.
Bill Davis Racing's Johnny Benson assumed the lead of the Kroger 200 from KHI's Ron Hornaday on Lap 155, but in the big picture Hornaday was cruising while running second to Benson with three to go. The pole-sitter had led the first 154 laps, securing 10 bonus points, and was moments away from leaving Virginia with only a 10-point loss off his 39-point championship lead.
Hornaday's boss was looking smart too, about to nab a top-5 -- perhaps a top-3 -- finish in the No. 2 Chevrolet he took over the week prior from an underperforming Jack Sprague. While Hornaday ran first and then second Saturday, Kevin Harvick remained dutifully on his rear bumper, a wingman doing his part to help land a second consecutive series title.
Ah, if race cars only ran on smart blueprints. But they still run on gas, and when the No. 33 ran out of it with three laps remaining, Benson was handed his fifth win of the season and the points lead.
The No. 23 Toyota's 39-point deficit turned into a 65-point advantage as Hornaday limped home 29th. Adding to the KHI agony, Harvick ran out on the last lap and finished 15th.
Benson, Hornaday and Harvick made their lone pit stop of the race after a Lap 36 caution, but only Benson could coax the mileage to make it to the end. Maybe it was the four tires he took on his stop, allowing for better cornering. Maybe it was some good luck. Benson said he didn't take a victory lap, figuring he was empty, and he babied the throttle on the final laps after seeing Hornaday fall away.
The fuel drama was the highlight of the points battle and the entire race. Benson's pass on Hornaday on Lap 155 was the only lead change, and 44 laps of caution marked the fewest in the last five Kroger 200s.
A spin by Circle Bar Racing's Brendan Gaughan on the frontstretch leading to the checkered flag scrambled things from about 11th place on back, but the leaders had already passed. Dennis Setzer, the spring winner at Martinsville, grabbed second in his Bobby Hamilton Racing-Virginia Dodge when the KHI trucks faltered, with Circle Bar's Rick Crawford third, part-timer Kyle Busch fourth and Todd Bodine fifth.
Saturday the Trucks travel to Atlanta, where the championship battle will be renewed with four races remaining, and Benson will try to defend about the same-size lead he had with seven races remaining. Then he was the victim of a bad finish at Las Vegas (crashing out 27th) after running perfectly well, the same fate that plagued Hornaday on Saturday.
"We have four races to go. We are going to run every race like it is the last race and we will go from there," Hornaday said. "I would rather be behind [in points] than in front."
His gas tank determined that in Martinsville.
-- John Schwarb
Jimmie Johnson dominates at Martinsville and more than doubles his championship lead. We hear from Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton.
Racing Resources Says
Sprint Cup Series
Jimmie Johnson won the Tums QuikPak 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Johnson posted his 39th career victory in his 251st career race. He tied Tim Flock for 15th all time on NASCAR's win list.
Johnson posted his second win in the Chase. It was his sixth win of the 2008 season, including four of the last eight. Johnson posted his fifth win in 14 races at Martinsville. He has won four of the last five races there, and he has won four of the five Chase races at Martinsville, since 2004.
Johnson won the race from the pole position. He has scored top-10 finishes in the last 13 straight races at Martinsville. Johnson posted his 13th win in 46 Chase races, the most of all drivers. It marked his eighth career short-track victory in 42 short-track races.
Johnson has scored top-10 finishes in the last eight races, extending a streak that began at California in August.
Johnson led seven times for 339 laps, including the final 35. The 339 laps led are the most Johnson has led in a single race in his Cup career, exceeding his previous record of 334 laps led at Lowe's in May 2004. Johnson has led in 26 of the 32 races this season, more than any other driver. Johnson has led 710 laps in the six Chase races. Matt Kenseth is second in laps led at 199. Johnson has led at least one lap in the last six races at Martinsville, the longest current streak.
Hendrick Motorsports posted its 18th win in 46 Chase races, the most of all teams. HMS posted its seventh victory in 2008 (Johnson, six; Dale Earnhardt Jr., one). Hendrick had all four teammates finish in the top-six positions (Johnson, first; Earnhardt, second; Jeff Gordon, fourth; and Casey Mears, sixth).
Earnhardt posted his best finish in 18 races at Martinsville. He has scored four top-10 finishes in his last six races at Martinsville.
Gordon has scored top-10 finishes in the last 12 races at Martinsville. He has gone 37 races without a victory, his longest streak between victories.
Denny Hamlin (fifth) has scored six top-10 finishes in his seven races at Martinsville.
Kevin Harvick (seventh) has been running at the finish in the last 76 races, the longest current streak by any driver.
Clint Bowyer (ninth) has scored top-15 finishes in his last nine races, a streak that began at the second Bristol race.
This was the 10th win for Chevrolet in 2008. Toyota has 10 wins, Ford has eight and Dodge has four. The top 10 consisted of seven Chevrolets, two Fords and one Toyota. The top five finishers were Chase drivers. Eight of the top 10 were Chasers.
Four of the 12 Chase drivers each earned lap-leader bonus points at Martinsville by leading at least one lap. Eight of the 12 Chase drivers changed positions after Martinsville.
Johnson now leads second-place Greg Biffle by 149 points, the biggest lead in the six races thus far. Johnson is the only driver to score top-10 finishes in the first six races of the Chase.
This was the eighth green-white-checkered finish in 2008.
Craftsman Truck Series
Johnny Benson won the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway, his 14th Truck victory in his 109th race. This is Benson's fifth win in 2008, tyring Ron Hornaday Jr. for the most. It is Benson's third career short-track win.
Benson led once, the final 46 laps. He won from the fifth starting position, the 16th of the 20 races won from the top-10 at Martinsville.
This is the 24th win for Bill Davis Racing, seventh of 2008 -- five by Benson, one apiece by Mike Skinner and Scott Speed.
Toyota posted its 12th win of the 2008 season. Chevrolet has seven wins and Ford and Dodge have one each.
Hornaday, the points leader coming into the race, ran out of fuel while running second with three laps to go. Hornaday finished 29th.
Benson scored 104 more points than Hornaday and is now the leader by 65 points.
Hornaday led a track-high 154 laps from the start of the race.