Hendrick gang streaks into Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. -- The mighty Hendrick Motorsports machine barrels into Northern California with one goal in mind:

Extend the streak.

The streak is the five-win bonanza that HMS will ride into Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET, TNT) at Sonoma Raceway. It's the Sprint Cup Series' longest win streak since the Hendrick juggernaut won six in a row in 2007 -- a modern-era record.

Leading the charge Sunday? That would be six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time champion Jeff Gordon.

This year's windfall started with Gordon's victory at Kansas Speedway on May 10. Johnson then won at Charlotte and Dover, Dale Earnhardt Jr. prevailed at Pocono, and Johnson triumphed for the third time in four races last week at Michigan, a track he'd never won at.

Without question, no team should be feared more than the No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have been operating at an elite level. And they do have one win at the 1.99-mile Cali road course (2010).

But Johnson is quick to recognize the wide-open nature of this event; nine different winners have visited Victory Lane here over the past nine races.

"It's been such a different race the last five or six years when you look at the winners. People you might not put into that road course ringer category, myself included," Johnson told reporters Friday. "I won, Martin [Truex Jr.], Clint [Bowyer], Kasey Kahne was in there at some point. More traditional oval guys, so I think this is the hardest race to pick yet.

"Then when you add the fuel strategy that typically plays in, that shakes it up, as well. I think all four of our Hendrick cars will be capable of it, and we certainly want to keep the streak alive, but I can't pick a favorite here. I could probably pick a favorite, but I don't think there is a safe bet on a winner. I think there are 20, 25 cars that could win here."

Of course, Gordon is no slouch -- particularly at Sonoma. He is the only five-time winner here (1998-2000, '04, '06). He also holds track records for most poles (five) and most laps completed (2,117 of 2,441). Gordon has eight straight top-10s here, including two runner-up efforts in his past three attempts.

Oh, did we forget to mention he's also the points leader?

A lot of the buzz in the garage regarding the Hendrick stable's success centers on its superior engine program. That line of thinking, Gordon cautioned, is misguided.

"We are driving great cars," said Gordon, the Cup series' all-time leader with nine road course wins. "I think that Rick [Hendrick] does an excellent job of hiring quality people, and I think that is behind the wheel as well as the people that work on the cars. All the way from crew chiefs to the people that build the engines and chassis. Yeah, I think you would be discrediting all of those efforts and across the board. To go down the straightaways you've got to get through the corners pretty good, too. Right now I think we are doing both. I'm pretty proud of that."

Even Earnhardt, who has zero top-10 finishes in 14 Sonoma starts, could join the Hendrick fun Sunday. He topped the speed chart for a time in the first practice session Friday, eventually settling for seventh fastest. He was tied for fourth fastest in the final practice, but qualified 17th on Saturday.

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