By: Toby Christie – Follow on Twitter @Tobalical
Martin Truex Jr. nearly made it back to victory lane this past Sunday for the first time since the 2007 season (175 races ago). However after leading a race-high 173 laps, he was forced to settle for a second-place finish when Denny Hamlin edged ahead of his No. 56 NAPA Toyota with just 30 laps to go in the STP 400 in Kansas.
“I’d like to try it again,” Truex would exclaim when he exited his car Sunday, ”I mean, I drove as hard as I could.”
Truex has been on a roll as of late, and he is actually now up to second in the point standings after eight races in 2012, which is the highest he has ever ranked in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings in his seven-full seasons in NASCAR’s premier division. He will get his chance to try again at snapping his long-long-long winless drought this Saturday in Richmond.
Truex hasn’t been stellar through his career at Richmond International Raceway, but honestly he hadn’t been too great anywhere heading into 2012 — So don’t expect the past to ring true this weekend. His Michael Waltrip Racing team is building some seriously fast race cars, and it’s just a matter of time until they find victory lane. Maybe this is their weekend.
If you don’t think Martin Truex Jr.’s streak will be busted this Saturday night, what about Hendrick Motorsports’ now 14-race winless drought? Since the company hit 199 Sprint Cup Series wins in Kansas last October it seemed like win No. 200 would be automatically right around the corner. Well here we are eight races into 2012, and poor Mr. H is still having to lug that heavy box of 200th win hats and t-shirts around every week waiting for the moment to bust out the box cutters. But that may very well not be the case after Saturday.
Hendrick Motorsports has two drivers in it’s stable that lead all active drivers in wins at the .75-mile race track. Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each have three Sprint Cup Series wins at Richmond, tying them with Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart among the current sports’ best at this track.
But those aren’t the only bullets that Hendrick has in the chamber for this weekend. Jeff Gordon may have had rough luck so far this season, but he is no slouch at Richmond. He has two-career wins at this track – and last time we visited a short track (Martinsville) he was in position to win until a crazy finish took him out of the running order.
Oh and what about that Kasey Kahne guy? Remember when he was teetering on the edge of falling outside the top-35 in owner’s points? Well he is now on a two-race top-ten finish streak, and he too has a victory at Richmond that came back in 2005.
All four of Hendrick’s drivers have at least one victory at this track — this very well may be their best shot at breaking into the win column for the first time in 2012.
And don’t forget (as if that was possible) that if Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the one who can somehow get it done this weekend for Hendrick Motorsports, he will break a winless streak of his own in addition to nabbing Sprint Cup win No. 200 for HMS. Earnhardt hasn’t won since Michigan in June of 2008, which was 137 races ago, and as a result if Earnhardt pulls into victory lane Saturday night there very well may be a riot. His fan base can taste a win, and they are licking their chops — but so is the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet.
His confidence is so high that he even boasted in a recent media availability that he thinks he is a better driver than five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. So if Earnhardt does go on to win it won’t be much of a surprise as he has been stout all season long to this point, and his confidence is sky-high. Earnhardt currently is on pace to set his best ever average finish for a season (currently averaging a finish of 8.0) and he has yet to finish a race in 2012 a lap down.
Expect Earnhardt to compete for the win this weekend. Expect Hendrick Motorsports to have a really good shot at win No. 200. And Expect Martin Truex Jr. to keep his Cinderella season going.
There you have it. Tree huge winless streaks — all of which have a very realistic chance of ending this weekend in Richmond.