LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola is looking forward to returning to Martinsville after a very successful 2012 at the flat, half-mile speedway. "Our team did a great job at Martinsville last year," said Almirola. "We had two top-10s, first an eighth and then up to fourth in the fall. We're hoping we can move up another four spots and get to victory lane. It would be really special to win there. We have STP on the car, the same as the last win (1999) for the 43 car there."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished 14th at Auto Club Speedway to jump three spots in the standings.
ETC.: Almirola said, "History means a lot to me. Richard (Petty) has the most clocks from Martinsville (a record 16 including 15 as a driver), but I know he would really like to add another to his collection. I sure would love to put one in my house, too. Todd (Parrott, crew chief) really knows what it takes to get a car around this track. We really want the win - especially with all of the history Petty (Enterprises) has here."
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 22 points out of the top 10.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Seven wins and 32 top-10 finishes including 25 top-five's in 40 starts. Also won seven poles.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon believes "qualifying well there (Martinsville) definitely helps, and getting that first pit stop (for winning the pole) is an advantage on pit road. During the race, though, it's all about rhythm. You try to get into a rhythm quickly to knock off consistent lap after consistent lap. But traffic - which you encounter a lot of there - can disrupt that quickly. That's why it's important to jump right back into that rhythm after you through the traffic."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon struggled during the first half of the California race, but was able to rally in the final 50 laps to finish 11th.
ETC.: Hendrick Motorsports started a new tradition a few year ago - the ringing of the Victory Bell in each department after a win by one of the organization's four Sprint Cup cars. "My kids really enjoy the ringing of the bell," said Gordon. "The bell is so loud that they have to wear headsets, but they really seem to enjoy being part of the experience. Everybody gets something after they ring the bell and my daughter loved handing out stickers to everyone. It's become a really cool tradition - one the whole organization has rallied around."
56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 23 points out of the top 10.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Two top-eight finishes in the last three races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Truex said, "This track (Martinsville) is so much different from any place we race or go to test for that matter. It is going to be one of those deals where we will have to work on the car during the entire weekend as this track changes so much from Friday to Sunday. The key is to keep after the car and hope we can hit on as many good things as possible. I am really looking forward to that challenge."
LOOKING BACK: Truex "just missed it at California" as he finished 18th.
ETC.: Truex admits "I used to think it (Martinsville) was one of my tougher tracks, but since joining MWR (in 2010) I feel like we've always been a contender. Since joining MWR, I've had fast cars at Martinsville and that is why I have a lot of confidence with what we taking to Martinsville this weekend."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 24 points out of the top 10.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Defending race champion. Has 11 top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 22 starts. Also won three pole positions.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman is looking forward to defending his win of a year ago. "Martinsville is very much a finesse race track - from a braking standpoint, but also the acceleration part of it, too," said Newman. "You can really chew your tires up on the concrete before you get to the asphalt getting back to the gas, and you have to get back to the gas (quick), but how you do it can make a really big difference in how good your car is for a whole fuel run. Sometimes your competition is more you than anybody else."
LOOKING BACK: Newman rallied in the final 100 laps to finish tenth at Auto Club Speedway for his second straight top-10 finish. Has gained 11 spots in the point standings with those two top-10s.
ETC.: In looking back on Martinsville last year, Newman admits "we were way off early in the race. We weren't a winning car. But, once we got our lap back, we were good." Newman said on the crucial green-white-checkered restart, "I went to pass (Clint) Bowyer, he blocked and I gave him room and he clipped the curb. If he hadn't clipped the curb, he may have won. But it gave me an opening and I took it (when Bowyer bounced into Jeff Gordon, who in turn bounced into Jimmie Johnson). I knew I had track position and the bottom line. We were able to drive away."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 37 points out of the top 10.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Three wins and 15 top-10 finishes including nine top-five's in 28 starts. Also won three poles.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart calls the grandfather clock "you get for winning (at Martinsville) one of the cooler trophies in our sport. And the one thing about Martinsville is there is no lack of excitement. I don't care how flawlessly your day goes; you're going to bump into somebody at some point, even on a perfect day. You put 43 cars on that half-mile and it's always going to be exciting."
LOOKING BACK: A tire going flat in the final ten laps at California resulted in a 22nd-place finish for Stewart. After the race, he got in a shouting match with Joey Logano. Stewart was upset with Logano for blocking him on a crucial restart late in the event.
ETC.: Stewart admits that releasing or firing any of his employees is "the hardest part for me. I let somebody else take care of it. That's probably one of my weaknesses as an owner, having to tell somebody that you're not going to need their services anymore. It's hard to make a decision like that that you know is going to alter their family but at the same time you have a family of 200 people that you're responsible for and looking out for."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 38 points out of the top 10.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. His best finish in eight starts is 11th, but most of his finishes have been 24th or worse.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose knows "Martinsville is a tough track and takes some aggressive driving to make a pass. You really have to be up on the wheel every lap and have a car that has a lot of grip. Most important, however, are the brakes. The track is so flat that they really get abused. You have to take care of them. You need to go easy at the beginning, so we can get aggressive at the end."
LOOKING BACK: Tire problems resulted in a 36th-place finish for Ambrose at Auto Club Speedway.
ETC: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer was not with the team last year when it ran Martinsville. Ambrose believes "having Drew with us this time will really help. He has a history of putting good set-ups in his cars at Martinsville. Strategy is also really important there. Between Drew, myself and the whole team, I think we can put together a good finish this weekend and move back up the standings."
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing