The Nextel Cup series is feeling the Hendrick hammer.

Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won seven of the last eight Cup races, and all four of the Car of Tomorrow races.

NASCAR traditionally does not like one team dominating the Cup series. It has been known to "tweak" the rules to even the playing field.

Speaking after Jimmie Johnson won at Richmond, Va., Sunday for his fourth victory this season, crew chief Chad Knaus said: "I don't think there's going to be any action taken. I don't know what anybody could do."

Knaus, Johnson (second in the points standings) and the other successful Hendrick drivers, points leader Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch (sixth), are enjoying the ride while it lasts.

"This is a very circular sport," Knaus said. "You get your time at the top and then you fall to some degree. What you've got to do is make sure, when you're taking your time at the top, that you don't get too full of yourself, [that] when it's your turn to fall just a little, it doesn't break you apart.

"The one thing that we really focus on is that the team is very humble, they work very hard, they don't take things for granted."

Johnson, 31, hasn't missed a beat since winning his first Cup title last year. Having Rick Hendrick as the boss is a key to the organization's domination.

"[Previously, Hendrick said] 'We don't want to unravel this thing; we've worked too hard to get to this point,' " Johnson said. "Rick really has been driving that. All 560 employees have to buy into it."

The Cup teams face a major challenge in Saturday night's Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, which also will be the fifth Car of Tomorrow race.

"I think Darlington is going to throw a bunch of challenges at us," Knaus said. "It's a tire that we haven't raced with at the track before. Obviously, we have a different race car [that] we haven't raced there before.

"That's probably one of [Johnson's] strongest, if not his strongest, race track, because it suits his driving style so well. The key is going to be to run the entire fuel run and keeping the car out of the wall."

Johnson won both Darlington races 3 years ago, the last time "The Track Too Tough to Tame" annually hosted two races.

Greg Biffle has tamed Darlington, winning the last two Cup races there. He hopes to be only the third driver to win three in a row at the track (Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon are the others).

Biffle is one of many racers who say driving the COT is a handful.

"It is a difficult car to get to do what you want it to do," he said.

Making the COT turn is the biggest problem. With Darlington's tight track, there might be more wall-slamming than usual.

According to Biffle, there's speculation in the garage area that Hendrick teams have spent 100 days testing the COT.

"It seems pretty far-fetched," Biffle said on a conference call. "I do know they've done a tremendous amount of testing. We've spent 9 days testing.

"Everybody says this car was going to level the playing field for everybody. It hasn't done that to this point [but] it has raised up a few teams: [cars driven by Tony Raines, Johnny Sauter, Jeff Green and Dave Blaney]."

Biffle is optimistic that the COT eventually will work.

"As we continue to work on the car, we're going to figure it out," he said.

COT will be at Dover

In preparation for the Dover 400 on June 3, teams will test the COT at Dover International Speedway on Monday and Tuesday. There's no admission.

On Monday, fans may enter the track through Gate 14, starting at noon. Tuesday's testing begins at 9 a.m. Concession and souvenir stands will be open.



Dodge Avenger 500

Darlington Raceway, Darlington, S.C.

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

TV/radio: Fox/WXTU (92.5-FM), WNPV (1440-AM)

Race course: 1.366-mile oval

Race distance: 367 laps

Last year's race winner: Greg Biffle

Last year's pole winner: Kasey Kahne, 169.013 mph

Track qualifying record: Ward Burton, 173.797 mph (March 1996)

Track facts: Jeff Gordon has won the most races (six) at Darlington among full-time active drivers. Dale Jarrett is next, with 3 W's ... Gordon was runner-up in last year's race; Matt Kenseth was third ... The mood is brighter at Penske Racing: Kurt Busch has consecutive top-five finishes; Ryan Newman (19th in points) has back-to-back top-10s ... Jamie McMurray's 41st-place finish at Richmond dropped him six places, to 13th in points.

Wins: Jimmie Johnson, 4; Jeff Gordon, 2; Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, 1 each.

Up next: NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, May 19, Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C., 7:30 p.m.; TV: Speed.



Driver, last week's ranking, points total, margin.

1. Jeff Gordon, 1, 1691 -

2. Jimmie Johnson, 4, 1480, -211

3. Matt Kenseth, 3, 1431, -260

4. Denny Hamlin, 5, 1359, -332

5. Jeff Burton, 2, 1352, -339

6. Kyle Busch, 8, 1229, -462

7. Tony Stewart, 6, 1225, -466

8. Kevin Harvick, 9, 1203, -488

9. Kurt Busch, 10, 1198, -493

10. Clint Bowyer, 11, 1159, -532

11. Carl Edwards, 12, 1131, -560

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 13, 1118, -573

13. Jamie McMurray, 7, 1099, -592

14. Mark Martin, 17, 1038, -653

15. Greg Biffle, 16, 1037, -654

16. Elliott Sadler, 15, 1022, -669

17. David Stremme, 14, 1009, -682

18. Bobby Labonte, 20, 1001, -690

19. Ryan Newman, 24, 998, -693

20. Martin Truex Jr., 18, 987, -704


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