(AP Photo/Brett Flashnick)
Denny Hamlin was delivering race tickets as a promotion for Lowe's Motor Speedway last month when he was asked if this would be the year he finally got that elusive win at his home track, Richmond International Raceway.
"It's going to be a challenge," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. "Those Hendrick cars are so strong so, so strong. It's going to be hard for us to win Richmond, to win any race. They have so much going for them as far as engines, which we feel like they are the best, the chassis, which we feel like are the best.
"They have good drivers and the pit crews are second to none. They've got it all going for them. When they put all those pieces together and they all work out good, they are tough to beat really tough to beat."
An HMS driver didn't win later that week at RIR. Hamlin's teammate, Kyle Busch, did.
But that's been the only time over the past six races that an HMS driver or one with Hendrick equipment hasn't been in Victory Lane.
The dominance was particularly evident on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, where Mark Martin won for the second time in four weeks and cars with HMS support took six of the top seven spots.
Only Martin Truex Jr. at fifth broke up the monopoly. Martin's teammate, Jimmie Johnson, was second, followed by Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas Racing. Brad Keselowski, who won at Talladega for James Finch with a Hendrick car, was seventh in an HMS entry.
Hendrick definitely has a stranglehold on the competition. Last week at Richmond, cars with Hendrick equipment took three of the top five spots and four of the top eight. Prior to that, at Talladega and Phoenix, they swept the top three spots.
Before that at Texas they took the top two spots and four of the top six. A week earlier at Martinsville they took five of the top eight positions.
"This is as good as I've seen us in some time," Martin's crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said after Saturday night's win. "It's countless hours from a lot of people. It's incredible direction from Rick Hendrick."
Hendrick is the mastermind of this dynasty that has won the past three titles with Johnson and eight of the past 14. He is why the 50-year-old Martin gave up his part-time schedule to drive the No. 5 full time.
About the only thing Hendrick hasn't come through on is getting Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team to championship form, and he's working hard to resolve that.
"There's nobody else I'd rather work for," Gustafson said. "And there's 80 people in that 5 and 88 [Earnhardt] shop who would say the same thing. There's 500 people at Hendrick Motorsports who would say the same thing."
The surprise showing of newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing has only strengthened Hendrick. He now has six teams to draw information from instead of four as it was when Haas Racing was lucky to get a top-20.
The results are in the standings. Gordon tops the points, with Stewart second, Johnson fourth, Newman eighth and Martin 11th. The only driver out of Chase contention is Earnhardt at 18th.
"It's a great help," Johnson said of having Stewart and Newman as partners.
But Johnson isn't ready to say HMS and Stewart-Haas have taken over the series. He understands as good as the program is, Busch still has more wins (three) than anybody in the garage and that Roush Fenway Racing could turn things around at any moment.
"There's a lot of racing between now and [the end of the season]," he said. "We work hard. We know we have great equipment. It's just real tough to say right now looking forward what will be."
But it's not hard to look at the present and say what is.
Hamlin had it right two weeks ago. It's going to be hard for anybody to win any race with HMS or Hendrick-supported cars on the track.
Nationwide Series: Another Kyle Busch disappearing act
Are you wondering how points leader Kyle Busch felt after a flat tire with two laps remaining kept him from winning a race in which he led 143 of 153 laps?
A lot of people are.
Busch pulled his disappearing act again on Friday after Matt Kenseth's victory in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200, leaving Darlington Raceway without talking to the media. It's not the first time. He parked his car in Turn 3 at Bristol earlier this year and stormed away from the track after a late pit-road mistake cost him a sure win.
There have been other times, too, causing Pat Patterson to urge media on his Saturday morning Sirius radio show to boycott Busch for the remainder of the month.
In other words, if Busch wins a race nobody asks a question.
Patterson has a valid argument. Busch gladly accepts all the accolades after his victories, and likely will enjoy them if he is atop the points at the end of the season.
He should have to man up and face those same people after a disappointing loss, particularly when he played such a prominent role in the race.
If he doesn't want the attention there are plenty of non-Cup drivers struggling to survive who do.
Camping World Truck Series: Next stop Lowe's Motor Speedway
The series was off, but resumes on Friday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway following qualifying for the Sprint All-Star race that will be run on Saturday night.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday's SportsNation chat
Ryan McGee has his finger on the pulse of NASCAR, and he stopped by to answer your questions. Don't agree with his Power Rankings? Have a burning question? McGee will be here every Monday to mix it up with SportsNation at 2 p.m. ET.
Racing Resources SaysSprint Cup Series
- Mark Martin won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
- Martin posted the 700th top-5 finish for Hendrick Motorsports, second all time behind Petty Enterprises, which scored 890 top-5s. Jimmie Johnson (second) and Jeff Gordon (fifth) also finished in the top five, giving Hendrick 702 top-5s leaving Darlington.
- This is the 12th race won by a driver over age 50, the second by Martin.
- Martin posted his second win in 2009, the first time he has scored two wins in a season since 1999. It was his 37th career victory in his 733rd series start. He is tied with Bobby Isaac for 17th on NASCAR's all-time wins list.
- Martin, who started 12th, scored his second victory in 43 races at Darlington. His previous Darlington win came in September 1993. He now has six top-10s and has moved from 34th to 11th in points.
- This was just the 14th time in 106 races at Darlington that the race was won from a starting position outside the top 10 (13 percent).
- This is the 25th time Hendrick Motorsports has finished 1-2, but the first time at Darlington. Martin is the sixth driver to win at Darlington for Hendrick Motorsports.
- This is the third time that the No. 5 has won at Darlington. Ricky Rudd won in April 1991 and Terry Labonte won in August 2003.
- Martin led the final 46 laps.
- Greg Biffle led the most laps (117). The driver leading at the halfway point (Biffle) has won only two of the past 14 races at Darlington.
- Second-place Johnson has led in nine of the 11 races this season, more than any other driver. Johnson has scored nine top-10 finishes in 11 races at Darlington. He climbed from sixth to fourth in points.
- Tony Stewart (third) scored his best finish at Darlington in his 13th race. He has finished in the top five in five of the past six races.
- Ryan Newman (fourth) scored his fifth top-10 finish in 2009, all in the past seven races. Newman has scored top-5s in the past three races. He climbed from 10th to eighth in the standings.
- Fifth-place Gordon remained the leader of the Cup standings, by 29 points over Stewart. Gordon has finished 13th or better in nine of the 11 races this season.
- Jeff Burton (12th) has scored nine straight top-15 finishes.
- Clint Bowyer (37th) has finished 18th or worse in the past five races. He has dropped from second to 13th in the points during that five-race period. Bowyer ended an 83-race streak of running at the finish, since Homestead in November 2006, the longest consecutive streak in NASCAR history.
- Joey Logano (ninth) was the highest-finishing rookie. He tied his best finish of the season set at Talladega. The last rookie to finish in the top 10 at Darlington was Denny Hamlin in 2006.
- The 17 caution periods set the record at Darlington. The previous record of 15 was set in March 1995.
- Chevrolets finished 1-7. The last time Chevrolet finished 1-7 was at Loudon in July 2007 when it swept the first eight spots.
- This was the fifth victory for Chevrolet in 2009. Toyota has three, Ford has two and Dodge has one.
- The top 10 consisted of seven Chevrolets, one Toyota and two Fords.
- Matt Kenseth won the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at Darlington Raceway. It was his 25th victory in his 235th series start.
- Kenseth took over sole possession of fifth on the series all-time win list. He became just the fifth driver to score 25 Nationwide victories, joining Mark Martin (141 starts), Kevin Harvick (163 starts), Jack Ingram (116 starts) and Jeff Burton (276 starts).
- Kenseth scored his third victory in 15 races at Darlington. He became the seventh Nationwide winner in 2009; his last win came at Atlanta in March 2008.
- Roush Fenway Racing posted its 102nd series victory, the most of all teams. RFR scored its 15th series victory at Darlington and fourth of 2009; the 16 car has scored three of RFR's four victories in 2009.
- Of the competing manufacturers at Darlington, Ford has 16 wins, Chevrolet has 15, Dodge and Toyota each have one. Ford posted its fourth win in 10 races in 2009. Toyota also has four.
- Kenseth led one time for four laps.
- Kyle Busch finished 16th. He now leads the points by 37 over Carl Edwards, who finished third. Busch had scored top-10 finishes in the past six races, ending a streak that began at Bristol.
- Jason Leffler (second) has scored nine straight top-15 finishes, extending a streak that began at California in February.
- Eric Darnell (fourth) was the highest-finishing rookie contender.
- Brad Keselowski (11th) ended a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes that began at Texas.
- Joey Logano (12th) ended a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes that began at Nashville.
- This was the second green-white-checkered finish at Darlington. There was a green-white-checkered finish in this race one year ago.
- The top 10 consisted of four Chevrolets, three Fords, two Toyotas and one Dodge.