Kyle Busch is fresh off a victory at Bristol, and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, is the defending race winner at Martinsville. But I don't think it will be a Gibbs Toyota in victory lane at Martinsville. If I were a betting person, I'd put my money on seeing a team from Hendrick Motorsports in victory lane Sunday. Why? Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
Four-time series champion Gordon and three-time series champion Johnson have dominated recently at Martinsville, winning a combined nine of the last 12 events (Gordon won four; Johnson won five). Gordon is the standings leader, but is still searching for his first win of the season. He has a total of seven wins at Martinsville, the most of any active driver. Currently ninth in the standings, Johnson has won four of the last five races at the .526 mile track.
This weekend also marks the 25th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports' first NASCAR Sprint Cup win. Geoffrey Bodine drove the No. 5 to victory there in 1984 for owner Rick Hendrick.
But additional incentive for the Hendrick organization to win at Martinsville is the memory of the tragic plane crash in October 2004 that took the lives of 10 people en route to the race. Among the dead were John Hendrick, brother of Rick Hendrick; John's twin daughters, Kimberly and Jennifer Hendrick; and Ricky Hendrick, Rick's son.
"It's a really tough deal for me," Hendrick said. "It's a track that I remember going to watch a convertibles race in '63. I was a big Rex White fan. I got his autograph through the fence there. It was right down the street from where I went to South Boston every Saturday night with my family.
"It's always an emotional time if we win the race since then," he added. "It's just one of those bittersweet things that the Martinsville track didn't do. It's just that's where they were headed."
Sometimes, Hendrick said, he doesn't even want to go to the track.
"It's awful hard," he said. "It doesn't get any easier, and every time it comes up, I question whether I really even want to go. Then when I start thinking about it, it's tougher being at home than it is being there, too, because it's just then you know you should be there with them.
"The track is so special to me," Hendrick said. "It meant so much to my dad and my son and everybody else. We all wanted to win there because that was home. We were from Virginia. It was a piece of history."
Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog, "Pitting Outside the Box," at the Blogzone at yorkdispatch.com.