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Johnson's win a silver anniversary gift for Hendrick

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick celebrated the 25th anniversary of his first Cup Series victory in style Sunday with Jimmie Johnson winning the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

In 1984, Hendrick founded his racing organization - known then as "All-Star Racing" - with five employees, including driver Geoff Bodine and crew chief Harry Hyde. The new team struggled from the get-go, but Bodine accelerated the organization when he gave Hendrick his first victory in only the team's eighth start.

The win ironically came at Martinsville where Bodine passed Bobby Allison for the lead with 49 laps to go and then outran Ron Bouchard to take the '84 Sovran Bank 500.

Jimmie Johnson has won six times at Martinsville.
Bodine's victory at Martinsville helped the team secure sponsorship and ensured that he would run a full season rather than a partial one as initially anticipated. Bodine went on to win two more races for Hendrick that year.

Hendrick Motorsports has now won at the 0.526-mile oval 18 times, which is one short of the track record of 19 victories, held by Petty Enterprises.

"I've been coming here since I can't even remember with my dad," Hendrick said. "It's a special place. But I think over the years, we've had guys that just try to figure it out. Jeff (Gordon) came up to me in Victory Lane, and he said, 'I really wanted to win this for you today, but Jimmie's the man'."

Jeff Gordon is a seven-time race winner at Martinsville, but Johnson, along with crew chief Chad Knaus, has now won there six times, including five of the last six races.

"I think Jimmie and Chad have figured out some things here," he said. "It's kind of no different than the way the Gibbs cars have run at Bristol. We just kind of have a little bit of edge here. Certain people have certain tracks they always run good at. I know there's some Roush mile-and-a-half tracks, you just got to beat them."

Johnson won Sunday's race at Martinsville after battling Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin in the late-stages. He grabbed the lead for the first time with 70 laps remaining when he beat Hamlin off of pit road during a caution for an incident involving Jeremy Mayfield.

Hamlin reclaimed the lead again when he passed Johnson just after a restart with 44 laps to go.

But Johnson made his winning pass with 15 laps remaining as he got underneath Hamlin and moved him up the track.

"At the end, when I was trying to get back by Denny, it was in my mind that it would be awfully special to win for Rick here and win the 25th anniversary of his first win," Johnson said. "It's hard to put one above the other. I'm leaning towards the fact that it's the 25th anniversary."

Hendrick has recorded 176 wins so far in NASCAR's premier series.

While Hendrick has enjoyed many years of success at Martinsville, the track has also been a bittersweet place for the 59-year-old team owner. On October 24, 2004, Hendrick's son, Ricky Hendrick, brother and two nieces were among 10 people killed in an airplane crash near Martinsville, VA.

Over the years, Hendrick has built a dynasty in NASCAR, with Gordon capturing four Cup titles and Johnson winning the championship the last three years.

Gordon is currently atop the point standings, but Johnson has made a bold statement in his bid for a record fourth-straight title with a thrilling victory at Martinsville.

It would only be fitting if Hendrick ended his 25th year with another Cup title to his credits.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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