By admin | March 11, 2009
By Richard Allen
Hendrick Motorsports says it provides the same equipment to each of its drivers. That is almost certainly true, but two of their team members are achieving very different results from that equipment.
With only four races out of 36 complete, it would be a bit foolish to make too much of what has happened so far in 2009 although certain trends have become apparent. That said, one look at the early season Sprint Cup statistics clearly shows that teammates Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin are headed in opposite directions.
2008 was a year Jeff Gordon would probably like to forget. The four time Sprint Cup champion went winless over the course of a season for the first time since earning his first victory in 1994. He did manage to qualify for the Chase for the Championship but was never really a threat to win the title.
This year, Gordon finds himself back in a familiar position. After the first four races he leads the Sprint Cup standings. Although he has yet to win a race, he has been a serious contender every time out. He has two 2nd place finishes, one in California and the other in Atlanta.
Last year there were questions as to whether Gordon had lost interest or was distracted by his family and business obligations. In this early portion of the season, he has laid those thoughts to rest.
There is no question Gordon still has the fire to win races and championships. And, even though it is early, there is little doubt that he is capable of doing both of those things in 2009.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from Gordon’s early success is the languishing of Mark Martin.
Last year, it was announced that Martin would re-enter the high stress world of full time Sprint Cup racing after running only a partial schedule during the previous two seasons.
Even at age 50, Martin is regarded as one of the more physically fit drivers so few doubted he would be able to handle the rigors of full time driving. Some even went so far as to predict a serious championship run.
However, the veteran driver’s short time driving for Hendrick Motorsports has not lived up to expectations so far. For that matter, Martin’s early season run has been a disaster.
In four starts Martin’s best finish has been a 16th in Daytona. Blown engines in California and Las Vegas relegated the Arkansas native to 40th place in both of those races. A blown tire and the subsequent damage from that landed him in 31st at the drop of the checkered flag in Atlanta.
Instead of being concerned with a championship, Martin and his #5 team now have to be more concerned with staying in the Top 35 of the standings. The Top 35 teams in car owner points are guaranteed into each race. A team outside the Top 35 runs the risk of missing for a race if their car is not fast enough to qualify.
What some thought would be a dream season for Martin has taken on the look of a nightmare.
Two men who drive for the same organization have found far different results in the early stages of 2009. While it is too early to award Jeff Gordon a championship, it is not too early to realize that he will be a contender. And, it is far too early to count Mark Martin out, but it is not too early to say things are not going as hoped.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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