Who Is NASCAR's "Superman"?

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IJuly 31, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 07:  Hendricks Motorsports drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Mark Martin pose for the media to honor Rick Hendrick prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 7, 2009 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Four of the top five drivers in the first and only practice at Pocono Raceway today were Hendrick teammates.  Leading the pack was Mark Martin, with Jimmie Johnson in second, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in third, and Jeff Gordon bringing up the top four rear.

The lone non-Hendrick car in the top five belonged to a former Hendrick driver, Kyle Busch, currently in the seat for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 18 M & Ms Toyota.

Three of these Hendrick teammates are also in current Chase for the Championship contention.  As a result of the race at the Brickyard, Jimmie Johnson nudged Jeff Gordon out of the second and now occupies the runner-up spot to points leader Tony Stewart.

While Gordon lost a spot, falling to the third Chase position, his Hendrick teammate Mark Martin bounded up two positions, from eleventh to ninth in the points standings.

When Jeff Gordon met the press corps in the media center at Pocono after practice, he shared that the Hendrick cars were all in qualifying trim, while most of the other cars were in race trim, which may explain the practice domination.

Yet in spite of the strong Hendrick team showing in practice, and the strong starting positions that they will have due to the rain out of the qualifying session in Long Pond, PA, there was nonetheless a great deal of conversation about who on the Hendrick team is the real "Superman".

When Mark Martin came to the media center for his interview, he deemed teammate Jimmie Johnson as "Superman".  Martin proclaimed Johnson so because of his consistency, his triumph in the face of adversity, and the "never say die" attitude on the team.

Yet when Jeff Gordon made his appearance at the Pocono media center, Gordon said that Martin had "got it backwards."  Gordon deemed Martin "Superman" instead, saying "The guy is just unbelievable."

Gordon continued, "He's always been impressive to me and I think to a lot of others with his talent and commitment to what he does."

"When you put him with a team at Hendrick like that No. 5 car and crew chief Alan Gustafson and that group," said Gordon, "it just shows just how talented he truly is."

Gordon admitted that Martin is hugely modest and would "never want to call himself "Superman". 

But Gordon minced now words, saying of Martin that he is the true "Superman" out there and we're really proud to have him on board."

Jimmie Johnson almost blushed when he was told Martin was calling him "Superman". 

That's "pretty cool," said Johnson.  "I saw highlights of what Mark said.  He also told me that in Victory Lane."

Johnson continued, "I just kinda laughed and him and told him he was crazy," said Johnson with a chuckle.  "But it means a lot."

But there may just be another "Superman" on the Hendrick team, one that has been fairly quiet so far this season after a significant crew chief change. 

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is undoubtedly the "Superman" of NASCAR's most popular driver award.

Teammate Jeff Gordon said of the award, "It is a great way for the fans to show just who it is that they love and adore.  It gives them almost a competition among themselves to make sure their driver wins it."

So, who is NASCAR's "Superman"?  It depends who you ask of course.

But at this stage in the game, NASCAR's "Superman", whoever he may be, looks like he might just belong to the Hendrick Motorsports camp.