Originally written on Race Review Online  |  Last updated 5/31/12

LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 02: NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne speaks at Las Vegas Motorspeedway for the Roast of four time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson during Day 1 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champions Week on December 2, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

It's twelve races deep into the 2012 Sprint Cup season, and after said third of the season, Hendrick Motorsports now has two trophies on the shelf.  With Johnson's Darlington triumph and Kahne's Charlotte victory, we sports desk philosophers are hopping from one mental inquiry to another. We pondered when Hendrick would achieve win number 200 (achieved with Johnson's Darlington win), and now we shift our roving wranglings to a lesser scope; namely, the current season. Will the mighty Hendrick stable hit double-digit wins on the year?

That’s the issue at stake in this episode of Bonus Points, a weekly feature in which Sports-at-Work writers Sam Salo and Luke Krmpotich debate a current issue in NASCAR, giving their takes on the way things ought to be. Sometimes, Sam and Luke will agree; other times, they may have slightly differing opinions; and on occasion, they'll be at each other's throats.

Each writer will also assign a "flag" value to his opinion on the question: checkered flag if it's a slam dunk, green flag if he's mostly convinced, yellow flag if it's a toss-up, red flag if he's pessimistic or black flag if he's dead set in opposition to the idea.

Luke: We’re a third of the way into the 2012 season, and Hendrick Motorsports has two wins. At that rate of winning, one could expect the team to have around six wins by season’s end. Sounds logical enough.

However, with legends named Johnson and Gordon in the stable, the win column can seem to grow exponentially at times, rather than in the linear fashion to be expected of mere mortals. Remember 2007, when the duo combined for an amazing 16 wins? In that fabled year of Hendrickian dominance, the other HMS drivers each bagged a win, boosting the win total to an even 18 of 36 races.

I don’t expect that to happen this year, of course. But it does go to show that 10 wins isn’t hard to imagine, and by all rights, the team should have another win or two that slipped away due to bad luck (Martinsville, anyone?). Here’s all it would take: another four wins by Johnson (who has averaged 6.3 wins over the last 5 seasons), two wins by Gordon, another win by Kasey Kahne, and a winless-streak-busting victory by one Dale Earnhardt Jr. There are still 24 races to go in the season. Anyone want to bet against this bunch?

Of course, it’s easy to say that a driver (or group of drivers) “ought” to be able to win X amount of races in a given year. And it’s quite true that organizations predicted to do well quite often fall far short of expectations. But I don’t think that will be an issue here. Hendrick Motorsports has the best drivers on the planet, and they’ll all had speed consistently throughout 2012 (something that was an issue last season, when Johnson won a career-low two races). Prior to Johnson’s historic win at Darlington, it was mere luck—a considerable factor in racing, without a doubt—keeping Victory Lane clear of HMS machines.

To cut to the chase: it’s a green flag for Mr. Hendrick and his awesome collection of racing talent to reach 10 wins (or more) in 2012. Johnson and Kahne have reached Victory Lane already. Gordon and Earnhardt, what are you waiting for?

Sam: To be sure, this is a bit of a tough call. Current prognostications would have 10 or more wins as right on the current rate of delivery. Johnson has a win, as well as Kahne; it seems to be only a matter of time before Earndhardt Jr. translates superb runs into a checkered flag and Gordon cashes in his growing list of win rain checks.

As usual, the pivot point this year will center on Johnson's abilities to lead the Hendrick charge in the win column. Gordon has the potential to do so, but Johnson's recent resume shows that he is the most likely candidate to carry the lion's share of the 10-win burden. Kahne should be counted on to pad the statistics, especially looking at the 1.5 mile tracks littering the schedule. One can only logically hope that Junior will be able to give his due of one to two wins on the year. Back to Gordon, if his unconscionable spate of ill luck can finally buy him some rewards, three to five wins is certainly to be had.

The obstacle here is the one dominating current NASCAR racing. (In a twist of great irony, it's the problem visiting Formula 1 this year. Knowing readers will understand my meaning in a minute.) That obstacle is NASCAR's present state of hyper competition. The Johnson's of the world have it tough to win more than, say, three races in a year, while the Gordon's of the planet have it tough to avoid the myriad of non-racing issues that can steal a win at the very end of a race. With NASCAR's vast array of rules and race-end quirks, it's simply hard to win a race these days. It's almost impossible to breach 20 top 10's on the year, even if top 10 speed was present in 30 out of 36 races.

All that to say, it might be that Hendrick will have the performance of a 10-win season without an actual 10 in the wins column. It's a sign of the competitive and rule-filled times. Right now, Hendrick's champion stable gets the yellow flag, with tinges of red; the one-oh is possible, but not likely in the highly contested 2012 season.

Final verdict: It’s a yellow flag for the odds of Hendrick reaching double digit wins in 2012…but Vegas is starting to think long and hard about moving the odds to better then 50/50.

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