NASCAR Driver Capsules, April 5

POSTED: 6:22 AM Apr 05 2013
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Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup stands, plus five additional drivers of note.

By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After going back and forth between second and third place in the standings in the first four races, Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed atop the Sprint Cup points after Fontana. He leads Brad Keselowski by 12 points and third-ranked Jimmie Johnson by 16 points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 26 career starts, 0 wins, 10 top-fives, 14 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: second in fall 2008 and spring 2011. Finished third in spring race there race last year and was 21st in the fall race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Ask Earnhardt which track he wants to win at the most (that he's never won at before), and the answer will likely be Martinsville. He loves the old-school style of racing there. His overall record at the half-mile bullring is outstanding. All he needs to improve is his first win there. In addition, Sunday marks Earnhardt's 600th start in the Cup series, of which he said: "I take a lot of pride in what I've accomplished over the years. I'm proud of the two (NASCAR) Nationwide championships, the wins in both series and having worked with a lot of talented people. And it's an honor to have the fan support that I do. I like that I'm able to do what I do for a living. Hopefully there's another 600 in there."

LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt earned his second second-place finish of the season this past Sunday at Fontana (other runner-up finish was in the season-opening Daytona 500).

ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 98.8 percent (12,879) of the 13,034 total laps contested in 26 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 13.7 and average finish is 13.0. He has two DNFs there.

2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After holding the top spot in the Sprint Cup standings, Brad Keselowski fell back one spot into second place after Fontana. He trails new points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 12 pints and leads third-ranked Jimmie Johnson by four points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 6 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 3 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: sixth in fall 2012. Finished ninth in this race last year and sixth in the fall there.

LOOKING AHEAD: For a guy who does outstanding at a short track like Bristol, Keselowski has struggled throughout his career at Martinsville (and Richmond, for that matter). Maybe it's something about racing in the state of Virginia, but Keselowski's short-track acumen definitely needs a boost at Martinsville. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Martinsville is a place where I have really mixed emotions about. Early in my career, that was a place where I really couldn't figure out, to be honest. Now the last few times we have been there, I feel like we have been exceptionally strong. We didn't qualify as well as we wanted to last fall and started in the back, but by the end of the race we came on really well. I think going back to Martinsville we are a lot smarter, I am a lot wiser as to what I need and I think this year I have to be honest - I am going in feeling like we can win the race and might be one of the favorites."

LOOKING BACK: Keselowski had the best start to the season of any driver in the Sprint Cup series heading into Fontana, with two third-place and two other fourth-place finishes. But at Fontana, he struggled to a miserable, season-worst 23rd-place finish.

ETC.: Even though his success has been marginal there, Keselowski has completed 99.9 percent (3,021) of the 3,023 total laps contested in six career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 19.8 and average finish is 12.2. He has zero DNFs there.

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remains in third place in the standings for the second consecutive week. He trails new points leader and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 16 points, second-ranked Brad Keselowski by four points and leads both Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, who are tied for fourth, by 19 points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 2 career starts, 7 wins, 15 top-5s, 19 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 2004, fall 2006, spring 2007, fall 2007, fall 2008, spring 2009, fall 2012. Finished 12th in the spring race last year, and won there in the fall.

LOOKING AHEAD: Given how much success he's had there - it's his most successful track on the Sprint Cup circuit - don't be surprised if someday they rename Martinsville as Johnson Speedway. Johnson always seems to get more geared up to race at the short half-mile bullring than any other track. One stat that is most telling: in 22 starts, he's finished outside the top 10 just three times, and only once worse than 12th (35th in his first race there back in spring 2002). Here's Johnson's thoughts on Sunday's race: "Martinsville is just a quirky track. Once I figured out how to drive it, and frankly once Tony Stewart lapped me there in my sophomore year, it just made sense how to drive the track and I've had it ever since. From my first year at Martinsville, I never thought I'd have a stat to take down; let alone a stat that I'd ever have a chance to take down (a victory this week at Martinsville will give him 8 wins, which would be more than any other active Sprint Cup driver)."

LOOKING BACK: Johnson didn't have a bad day at Fontana, but he also didn't have a particularly great day, either, finishing 12th, one spot behind teammate Jeff Gordon.

ETC.: Johnson has completed 99.5 percent (10,980) of the 11,034 total laps contested in 22 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 11.9 and average finish is an outstanding 5.5. He has one DNF there.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle climbed one spot after Fontana and into a tie for fourth place with Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards. The pair trail new points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 35 points, third-ranked Jimmie Johnson by 19 points and lead sixth-ranked Kyle Busch by just one point.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 20 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 3 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: seventh, fall 2007. Finished 13th in the spring race last year and was 10th in the fall race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle has to be cringing at the thought of the next race at Martinsville. Try as hard as he may, he just can't seem the handle around that short track, which is ironic given that Biffle grew up racing on short tracks similar to Martinsville. Here's Biffle's thoughts on Sunday's race: "Martinsville is obviously not one of my best race tracks, but over the last couple of years we've gotten a lot better with top-10 finishes. Now we need to step it up and get a top-five finish. Our brakes have been good, tractions been good and the cars are working better. Our goal is a top-five finish at Martinsville this Sunday."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle had a strong run at Fontana, one of his favorite tracks, finishing sixth.

ETC.: Even though he's struggled when it comes to good results there, Biffle has completed 97.7 percent (9,804) of the 10,034 total laps contested in 20 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 20.2 and average finish is a mediocre 21.4. He has zero DNFs there.

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards climbed three spots after Fontana and into a tie for fourth place with Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards. The pair trail new points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 35 points, third-ranked Jimmie Johnson by 19 points and lead sixth-ranked Kyle Busch by just one point.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 17 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-five, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in fall 2008. Finished 11th in last year's spring race and was 18th in the fall race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards is much like teammate Greg Biffle. Both spent their formative racing careers primarily on short tracks - and winning a lot on them - but for some reason have just not had much luck at Martinsville Speedway. Here's Edwards' thoughts on Sunday's race: "I am late a lot, so I think it would do everyone around me a big favor if I was to put our Fastenal Ford in Victory Lane at Martinsville and take home the Grandfather clock. We have had a few good runs there, but for the most part, we have struggled. It would be huge for me personally to get a win there."

LOOKING BACK: Edwards had one of his stronger performances of the season at Fontana, finishing fourth. Had a few things gone more his way, he might have left there with his second win of the season.

ETC.: Edwards has completed 97.9 percent (8,351) of the 8,534 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 18.1 and average finish is 16.1. He has zero DNFs there.

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Climbing seven spots after Bristol, Kyle Busch jumped up four more spots into sixth place after his win at Fontana. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 36 points, is one point behind the fourth-place tie between Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards and leads seventh-ranked Kasey Kahne by four points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 16 career starts, 0 wins, 7 top-five, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in fall 2012. Finished 36th in last year's spring race, but bounced back to finish a career-high runner-up in the fall race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch has won at Bristol and Richmond, but never at Martinsville. Coming off a win at the two-mile track at Fontana, he's looking to finally scratch Martinsville off his "must win" list of tracks. Busch is eyeing a second straight win Sunday: "I certainly hope so. We were so close last fall and right on Jimmie's (Johnson) bumper for the win. I've led a bunch of laps there, but we just haven't been able to hold it for the end of the 500 laps."

LOOKING BACK: Busch dominated to win at Fontana, his 25th career Cup victory. He had a car that was the class of the field and continually kept his challengers at bay throughout the race.

ETC.: Busch has completed 95.6 percent (7,684) of the 8,034 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 13.9 and average finish is 16.8. He has one DNF there.

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Kasey Kahne remained in seventh place in the standings after Fontana. He trails points leader and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 40 points, is one point behind sixth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads eighth-ranked Paul Menard by five points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 18 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-five, 3 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Second in spring 2005. Finished 38th in last year's spring race, but rebounded to finish third in the fall race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Much like fellow drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, all who cut their racing teeth on short tracks, Kahne has not been able to solve the puzzle that has been Martinsville Speedway. Here's Kahne's thoughts on Sunday's race: "Just having Jimmie (Johnson), Jeff (Gordon) and Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) as my teammates, those guys run really well there. Being part of Hendrick Motorsports, they bring a really nice package to that track. Last year was the best I've ever ran there, the most comfortable I've been and I feel like it will be like that again this year just because of the guys I'm surrounded with. That was one of my hardest tracks and now I'm feeling like I'm figuring it out and I think it's because of those guys and listening and learning from them."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne had a competitive car at Fontana, but wasn't able to win a second straight race, having captured the checkered flag the week before at Bristol. Kahne ultimately finished ninth at Fontana.

ETC.: Kahne has completed 92.1 percent (8,324) of the 9,034 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 19.2 and average finish is 20.7. He has four DNFs there.

27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Paul Menard continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the season, and is now in eighth place after Fontana. He is 45 points behind points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., five points behind seventh-ranked Kasey Kahne and leads ninth-ranked Joey Logano by eight points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-five, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 12th in fall 2012. Finished 26th in last year's spring race and was 12th in the fall race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Menard has struggled at Martinsville throughout his career, but given the start he's had this season, might he have a breakthrough race there Sunday? Here's Menard's thoughts: "After having a weekend off, I'm ready to get back to racing. We had some great momentum with a string of top-10's before the break, so I'm hoping to keep that going this weekend. It's difficult to pass at Martinsville because everyone is fighting for the bottom groove. Sometimes it feels like bumper cars out there, but it's a fun track to drive. Qualifying and pit strategy are key because track position is so important at Martinsville. It's going to be all about survival on Sunday."

LOOKING BACK: Menard finished eighth at Fontana, paced himself, stayed out of trouble and hung around the top 10 for much of the event. He didn't have a great car, but he got as good of a finish as he could, which says a lot about Menard and his team.

ETC.: Menard has completed 95.4 percent (5,279) of the 5,534 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is a mediocre 22.1 and average finish isn't much better at 22.0. He has one DNF there.

22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano climbed into the top 10, improving from 12th to ninth after Fontana. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 53 points, is eight points behind eighth-ranked Paul Menard and leads 10th-ranked Denny Hamlin by one point.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Eight career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: second in spring 2010. Finished 23rd in last year's spring race and was 16th in the fall race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano proved he's ready for prime time with a strong third place finish at Fontana. However, Martinsville has not been one of his stronger tracks. Still, with the momentum gained from both his finish at Fontana and the resulting week off, Logano has the potential to have a strong run Sunday. Here's his thoughts: "You have to always look forward in this sport. If you linger on things, you will only go so far. So I've been focusing on Martinsville from the time we left California. It was good that we had an off weekend so everyone got a little rest before the upcoming stretch of races, but with the way we have been running, I want to keep the momentum going. So I'm ready to get back at it and move on. I know our team is ready to keep racing as well."

LOOKING BEHIND: Logano finished third at Fontana, but not without significant controversy. Tony Stewart chewed out Logano after a bad restart near the end of the race blocked Stewart from getting past Logano. And then there was the highly publicized wreck between Logano and Denny Hamlin, where Hamlin wrecked viciously and suffered a fractured disc that will likely keep him out for several races.

ETC.: Logano has completed 99.8 percent (4,015) of the 4,024 total laps contested in eight career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 16.2 and average finish is 15.2. He has zero DNFs there.

11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Denny Hamlin dropped four spots after Fontana, meaning he has now lost six spots in the last two races. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 54 points, trails ninth-ranked Joey Logan by one point and leads 11th-ranked Matt Kenseth by four points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 15 career starts, 4 wins, 9 top-fives, 12 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2008, fall 2009, spring 2010 and fall 2010. Finished sixth in last year's spring race, but fell to 33rd in the fall race.

LOOKING AHEAD: With Hamlin to be sidelined four to six weeks with a lower back injury, Mark Martin steps in to replace Hamlin this Sunday in the No. 11 FedEx Toyota at Martinsville, who is being "loaned" to Joe Gibbs Racing for one race. Brian Vickers will replace Hamlin next week at Texas and potentially more races going forward from there. Martin has had an exceptional career at Martinsville with 48 starts, two wins, 12 top-fives, 25 top-10s and three poles. His average start is 14th and average finish is 13th. Here's team owner Michael Waltrip's thoughts on "loaning" Martin to replace Hamlin this Sunday: "I think it is great that a driver of Mark's caliber is available to support our fellow Toyota team during this difficult time for them. We wish Denny a speedy recovery."

Said Hamlin's crew chief, Darian Grubb, on working with Martin: "Obviously, our primary concern is getting Denny healed up and back in the FedEx car when he's ready. We have to thank Mark and Brian (Vickers) for filling in these next few weeks, and we believe that we can be just as competitive, run up front and win races. Our team is a strong, tight-knit group, and this will bring us even closer together. The goal is to move the No. 11 car up in the owner's standings in the next few races, and when Denny returns, do everything in our power to get both him and our team in the Chase."

LOOKING BACK: Hamlin had the worst wreck of his career at Fontana, suffering a fracture of the L1 disc in his back after crashing with Joey Logano, who got the better of the incident, still managing to recover to finish third. Hamlin, meanwhile, went from what looked like an assured top-five finish to end up 25th. Even worse, he wound up in the hospital and will likely miss the next several weeks recovering from his injury.

ETC.: Hamlin has completed 97.0 percent (7,307) of the 7,534 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 10.9 and average finish is an outstanding 8.2. He has one DNF there.

Driver Capsules - Week of April 2, 2013

20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only four points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Finished fourth in the spring race a year ago for his eighth top-10 finish in 26 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth said, "Martinsville has typically been one of my weaker tracks, but Joe Gibbs Racing has a great record there, so I'm looking forward to seeing if I can do better with these JGR cars and set-ups. It's been a track where I feel like I was getting better at the last few years, but it's always been a place where it's difficult for me to tell the team what I need in my race car."

LOOKING BACK: Kenseth finished seventh at Auto Club Speedway to gain two spots in the standings.

ETC.: Crew chief Jason Ratcliff feels "we had great cars at Phoenix and Bristol this season already with Matt so I'm hoping to have similar success with our Husky Toyota at Martinsville. Martinsville is unique when it comes to set-ups. It seems like short tracks where aerodynamics aren't that big of a factor, a package that runs well there usually continues to run well even with this year's rules packages."

17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only six points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Will be making his Cup debut.

LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse has heard all the "war stories" about how tough Martinsville is and how hard it is to keep your cool at the flat, half-mile track. And for that reason, Stenhouse just wants "to come out of the weekend with a clean race car and a solid finish. If we can do that, all of us on the 17 team will be happy."

LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse finished 20th at California to give him five top-20 finishes in the first five races of the season. The rookie driver has completed every lap so far.

ETC.: Car owner Jack Roush has been very happy with Stenhouse's performance so far in 2013. "Ricky has been outstanding," said Roush. "He has all the enthusiasm and motivation, but he has managed to temper that against the realities of Sprint Cup racing. He has been patient with me and his team and he is getting the most out of his experience. He's doing what he needs to do and he's making the best investment of his time for what will follow."

78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Furniture Row Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, eight points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: One win and four top-10 finishes in 25 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "Martinsville Speedway is called a paper clip, but I call it a parking lot. It's tough, it's flat and everybody is beating and banging on each other all day long. You can't get away from the guys pounding on you from behind. Protecting your brakes and the rear tires are essential if you're going to have a good finish there. No question, Martinsville has been one of the toughest tracks on me over the years."

LOOKING BACK: A pit-road speeding penalty put Busch a lap down, but he rallied in the final 50 laps to finish fifth for his second straight top-five finish.

ETC.: The last time Busch had three consecutive top-five finishes were the first three races of the 2005 season. But he hopes to make it three in a row with another top-five finish at Martinsville this weekend. "Our focus right now is to continue our recent success," said Busch. "We tested for Martinsville at Spokane (Wash.) Raceway following the California race and feel we'll be ready for the challenge this weekend in our Furniture Row/Serta Chevrolet SS."

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, eight points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Will be seeking his third straight top-10 finish and fourth in the last five races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer is sure to be asked a number of questions this week about the spring race a year ago at Martinsville. It was his decision to make it three-wide on the deciding restart that triggered a multi-car accident that allowed fifth-place Ryan Newman to score the win. "I saw an opening and went for it," said Bowyer at the time. "I knew it was my only shot (at winning the race). We had a real good car in both races last year (leading 154 laps in the fall event before finishing fifth), so we are looking forward to this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer ran in the top 10 for most of the California race before suffering engine failure with only 16 laps remaining. As a result, he finished 35th to drop out of the top 10.

ETC.: Bowyer said, "I love cars. All kinds from pickups to classics to something a little new and different. I also have my own style and the way I like to do things. RK Motors in Charlotte (NC) - I've worked with them now twice as far as the 2011 barn-find Tundra and the 2012 Tekked Out Prius. They did such a good job with the Tundra that we took it to Barrett-Jackson and auctioned it off last year and raised over $100,000 (for Bowyer's charity the 79 Fund)."

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 15 points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: One win and 10 top-10 finishes in 23 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick feels running well at Martinsville is "a balance between being patient and making the right moves. You can get lapped pretty quickly if your car is off. You want to take care of your race car, but you want to take advantage of the opportunities (to pass) when you get them."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick ran in the top 10 for most of the California race, but ran into handling problems late in the event and ended the day in 13th place.

ETC.: Saving your brakes is always a key at Martinsville, but Harvick believes "the brakes and the rotors and everything are so good now that the issue you have now is the tires. The brakes will basically meld the bead of the tire because they're so hot, so you have to concentrate on not only the cooling of the brakes, but also the cooling of the tires."

1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 20 points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Ten top-10 finishes in 20 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray calls Martinsville "one of my favorite places to race. I have had some good runs there and I just think that it is fun to go short-track racing like that. I am also excited for the special paint scheme that we will run this weekend. We are going to support our IndyCar teammate Charlie Kimball with a diabetes awareness paint scheme for Race with Insulin. Kimball is the first licensed driver with diabetes to compete at the most elite level of IndyCar."

LOOKING BACK: McMurray ran in the top 10 for the first half of the California race, but ran into handling problems during the final 100 laps and ended the day in 19th place.

ETC.: McMurray spent Monday and Tuesday testing at Richmond International Raceway. "It's crazy to be testing at a track that we actually run at," said McMurray. "We don't get to do this very often. It was odd pulling in here and getting to log laps somewhere where we are going to race at. For a lot of teams, this is a tough track to get around. That's why this test is so important."

43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 20 points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Will be seeking his third straight top-eight finish.

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

WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 40 points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: One win and 16 top-10 finishes including 10 top-five's in 37 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Burton believes "it is so important to remain focused (at Martinsville). It's harder at Martinsville than anywhere else we go on the schedule. Keep your eye on the ball and try not to let things going on around you dictate what you do. Your goals need to dictate your actions. I think Martinsville is the hardest race track to stay focused on your goals."

LOOKING BACK: Burton finished 17th at Auto Club Speedway.

ETC.: When you put 43 cars on a flat, half-mile speedway like Martinsville, close-quarter racing becomes the norm. And that is why it is so hard to keep your fenders "clean. I think you have to make sure you are patient, but aggressive," adds Burton. "The more people you run into, the more it damages your car and makes it harder to drive."

11 MARK MARTIN, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 43 points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Two wins and 25 top-10 finishes in 48 starts. Also won three poles.

LOOKING AHEAD: Martin was not scheduled to race this week, but he agreed to drive the 11 car with Denny Hamlin sidelined with a fractured vertebra. Martin will return to his regular ride next week at Texas. "I am glad to help out in any way I can," said Martin. "I got fitted for my driver's seat earlier this week, and I hope to keep the 11 car up front all day at Martinsville. I know that is one of the team's best tracks."

LOOKING BACK: With only 24 laps to go, Martin broke something in the rear end of his Toyota and slammed hard into the wall to end his day in 37th place.

ETC.: What we had last week was a failure to communicate as Joe Gibbs Racing first announced that Martin would substitute for Hamlin in all five races that he is expected to miss. But Michael Waltrip Racing quickly indicated "that wasn't what we had agreed to." A day later, JGR said Martin would only drive the car at Martinsville with Brian Vickers filling in for Hamlin while he is recovering from his injuries. "We were a bit premature in determining Mark's status past Martinsville," said JGR President J. D. Gibbs.

10 DANICA PATRICK, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE SHE STANDS: 29th, 58 points out of the top 10.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Will be making her debut.

LOOKING AHEAD: Patrick said she is "actually really excited about Martinsville," the smallest and slowest track on the Sprint Cup Series. "I like the little short tracks," adds Patrick. "They're fun. We went testing out at Little Rock (Rockingham, NC) and got a feel for a track like Martinsville. I thought we actually make some really big gains that day. I had no idea that a woman had not competed at Martinsville (in Cup)."

LOOKING BACK: It was another long afternoon for Patrick as she finished 26th at Auto Club Speedway.

ETC.: On Monday, Patrick participated in the 135th White House Easter Egg Roll and read Dr. Seuss' "Go Dog Go" to a few young children. "It was an amazing experience," said Patrick. "It's such an honor to get to go to The White House and I really enjoyed it. I love kids and they're so much fun to be around, and it's pretty flattering when they tell you that you're their role model or hero. It's really humbling."