Hendrick Motorsports Looks Replace Gordon's Martinsville Knowledge

The STP 500 on April 3 marks the first-time in 23 years Hendrick Motorsports will be without nine-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon.

When it comes to Martinsville Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports has set a pretty high standard. After all, they’re the all-time winningest team in speedway history. However, the STP 500 on April 3 will mark the first time in 23 years the team won’t have Jeff Gordon to rely on.

The nine-time Martinsville winner is one of the best the half-mile track has ever seen and replacing him will be no small task, but the current crop of drivers, including the top-two finishers from Sunday’s race in Atlanta are up for the challenge.

“For me to learn Martinsville it took a lot from Jeff Gordon to show me the way; to walk me through the sensations of what to really look for inside the racecar,” Jimmie Johnson, an eight-time Martinsville winner said. “It’s going to be weird with Jeff not being there, he’s accomplished so much at that track.”

While Johnson is no stranger to grandfather clocks, he and his teammates are going to miss the knowledge that Jeff would bring every time the series stopped in Martinsville.

“Jeff’s great at telling us about his experience at the track over the years and how it changes from Friday to Saturday and Sunday,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. who also has a Martinsville win to his name.  “The track’s never the same throughout the whole weekend. It’s ever evolving. As more rubber gets put down the track sort of goes through cycles, and he’s real good at pointing all of that out, sowe’re aware of what to expect on race day and what adjustments to make overnight, even if our car is good in practice.”

Kasey Kahne echoed Earnhardt’s thoughts.

“I think you lose a lot of things not having Jeff there,” he said. “One big thing that I take is in all of our debriefs and pre-race meetings. He always has good questions. The questions are usually for himself, to benefit what he’s looking for in his racecar, but he gets people to open up a little bit more about what the adjustment did to your racecar.”

Stepping into Gordon’s famous No. 24 is rookie Chase Elliott. While Elliott has a good pedigree (the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott) and an impressive resume (the 2014 Xfinity Series Champion)he knows that one thing he is not is Jeff Gordon.

“I’m not going to try and be Jeff, first and foremost. There’s no need in even trying,” he said. “For me, I’m just going to try to be myself and do the best job I can do. That’s all I can ask for.”

Elliott made his Sprint Cup Series debut at Martinsville Speedway in last year’s STP 500, but trouble early saw him finish in 38th. This year he’s hoping to build on that experience.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t run the entire race,” he said. I need to just try to get through the weekend and not let that place change up how you go about it. For us, just try to be mindful of the not making the same mistakes I made last spring.”

One thing Elliott has on his side are teammates who believe in him.

“Chase is going to hop in the car and do a great job,” Johnson said. “The challenges that Martinsville poses led the team to take him to Martinsville to get some experience; to let him get bumped around, pushed around and see what goes on through qualifying which is so much different at that race track. Obviously the race being 500 laps is no easy feat either.

“I feel like we’re doing all we can to get him ready and prepared, but at the same time we have to through him into the fire and let him worry about this year on his own.”

Kahne said he will make himself available to Elliott whenever he needs it, he too is confident in the rookie’s ability.

“I think Chase is going to do a great job all by himself,” he said. “He’s got a lot of good people surrounding him and he’s going to be just fine.”

The Hendrick Motorsports team will return to Martinsville Speedway April 1-3 for the STP 500 race weekend.

The weekend starts with Virginia Lottery Pole Day on Friday and continues with the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday.

The STP 500 is on Sunday, April 3. Tickets start at $45.

Ticket prices increase the week of the race.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 877.RACE.TIX or online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.

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