You may have heard that Hendrick Motorsports is just one top 5 away from 1,000 in the Sprint Cup.
Just take a moment and let that sink in: Hendrick Motorsports has placed a driver in the top 12.5 percent of the field on 999 occasions. Its most-accomplished driver, Jeff Gordon, has only raced 797 races in his entire career.
It’s a number to be celebrated, regardless of whether you like the team or not. HMS is making history sometime soon, and with Gordon and Jimmie Johnson’s dominance at Indianapolis, this week seems like as good a time as any to get the deed done.
After all, the two drivers have scored 538 of HMS’ 999 top 5s in Cup competition and have a combined nine wins at the Brickyard. If any of HMS’ four drivers could score number 1,000 this weekend – Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott are also entered – it’s likely to be one of these two.
But 20 other drivers have scored at least one top 5 for Rick Hendrick since the team’s inception in 1984. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who will be sitting out this week while battling concussion-like symptoms, has scored the third-most top 5s for Hendrick, with 72 through 304 starts since joining the team in 2008. That puts him at a 23.68 percent top 5 percentage, a solid number but nowhere near as dominant at Gordon and Johnson, who have finished in the top 5 in 40 percent of the races they’ve entered.
Terry Labonte, once NASCAR’S Iron Man before losing the mantle to Ricky Rudd (who was later replaced by Gordon in 2015), was able to score 64 top 5s through 387 starts before retiring from HMS in the mid-2000s. Ken Schrader, too, has more than 50 top 5s for Hendrick, with 58 in 267 starts.
Other drivers with more than 10 top 5s? Geoff Bodine scored 49 including the teams very first top 5 many, many years ago. Darrell Waltrip spent a few seasons driving for Hendrick and scored 35 top 5s through 110 races. Rudd also earned 35 through 117 races.
Kahne currently has 31 top 5s and will look to pass both Waltrip and Rudd before the 2016 season is over. Kyle Busch, before he moved to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008, scored 30 top 5s in three full-time seasons as an HMS driver. Mark Martin, also in three seasons, was able to rack up 23 top 5s and a five-win season in 2009, a couple of years between full-time campaigns.
Tim Richmond scored 16 top 5s through 37 races, nine of them wins, which gave him a 43.24 top 5 percentage. And Brian Vickers scored 10 top 5s between 2004 and 2006.
Others that will history will remember as part of this record include Jerry Nadeau, Casey Mears, Benny Parsons, Chase Elliott (who will undoubtedly score many more over the course of his career), Joe Nemechek, Ricky Craven, Greg Sacks, Randy LaJoie and Wally Dallenbach, Jr.
All told, 44 drivers have made starts for Hendrick. Of the 22 drivers that haven’t scored a top 5 for HMS, only two have made three or more starts – Brad Keselowski (nine) and Jack Sprague (three).
Hendrick is a great team, of that there is no doubt. But it’s the team’s ability to put drivers of all abilities into the top 5 that should be celebrated. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a legend like Gordon or a rookie like Elliott that gets the job done. What’s important is the record being set: 1,000 top 5s in Sprint Cup competition.