Hendrick Teammates Most Dominant At Tricky Martinsville

Saturday, October 20th 2007, 4:34 pm
By: News On 6

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) _ The good news for the drivers chasing Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in the Nextel Cup Series championship is that five opportunities remain to cut into their lead and ruin their season-long domination.

The bad news is that the second half begins at little Martinsville Speedway, the tricky track where their superiority is perhaps more apparent than anywhere else.

The Hendrick Motorsports teammates have combined to win seven of the last nine races on the 0.526-mile oval, and both will start at the front in Sunday's Subway 500.

Gordon is on the pole, and Johnson will be a row behind, starting fourth.

Clint Bowyer, third in points and only 10 behind Johnson, starts 21st. The daunting task of making up ground is made all the more imposing by the competition, he said.

``It's not a back marker that you're trying to chase down, it's Jeff Gordon,'' Bowyer said of the four-time champion and runaway active leader with 81 victories. ``And it's not only Jeff Gordon of two years ago where he was a top-10 car, it's Jeff Gordon where he's a top-three car about every weekend, so we know we've got to pick up our game.''

Bowyer has been one of the surprises of the Chase for the championship. He won the first race at New Hampshire, and has finished second twice in the four since.

He knows he'll have to be even better to have a chance.

``Even if we do win two or three more races this year, it's still going to take some bad luck on their side,'' he said. ``If you win, they're going to finish second or third. They're just that good right now, but we have to be that good too and hopefully if they slip up and stub their toe or something, we have to be there for the taking.''

So far, Gordon hasn't come close to stumbling. He'll be seeking his third victory in a row Sunday, and has also finished second, fifth and 11th in Chase races.

Johnson, meanwhile, has two top-fives in the Chase, but will be seeking a season sweep of NASCAR's oldest, smallest circuit, and his third victory here in a row.

Gordon, however, looks like the man to beat.

``He has his team clicking on all eight cylinders and the luck factor is there,'' said Kurt Busch, who won NASCAR's first Chase title in 2004. ``He is turning cars that aren't race-winning cars into Victory Lane cars. When you're finishing better than where you're running, it's hard to beat that championship-type run.''

In the spring, Gordon and Johnson battled for the top spot over the final 53 laps at Martinsville, with Gordon slamming hard into Johnson's rear numerous times trying to pass. It was a race that highlighted the sturdiness of the then-new Car of Tomorrow as Johnson's car barely wiggled from the contact and he held off Gordon for a narrow victory.

Count Bowyer among those who would love to see the rivalry between the teammates come to the fore again, this time with the intensity of the Chase heating it up.

``Both of them have won championships. Both of them have won a ton of races and you can bet your butt that they want to beat each other more than anybody else on that race track,'' he said. ``I'm sure that's a constant headache on Rick Hendrick's part, but the bottom line is you couldn't be in a better situation for him and all those guys.''

Then, laughing, he added:

``I hope they get mad at each other. Maybe they'll start wrecking each other.''

Johnson, who said the teams have learned how to use the CoT to move people in the races since April, laughed when it was suggested that he's in a no-win situation if he finds himself chasing Gordon for the victory in the final laps and wants to move him.

``I'm sure Mr. Hendrick would be thinking about it sitting there on the pit box,'' he joked. ``But I just don't think that either one of our styles lend to dumping people. If it did happen, hopefully everyone would understand that it would be accidental.''

The bottom line, said Gordon, is winning races.

``It's not about friendship at that point,'' he said.