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By The Sports Xchange March 28, 2013 12:10 PM
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. 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). Here are Earnhardt's thoughts on the race: "We just stick together. We were pretty good at closing races, something I never really was good at for years, and now we're doing it as good as anybody. Just riding the wave. Just real happy with how things are going for our team." 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 following Sunday's race at 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. 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. Here are his thoughts after Fontana: "Really proud of the effort the guys on the Miller Lite Ford team have put in to start the season. I would've liked to have kept the points lead heading into the Easter break, but that doesn't overshadow the great start we've had. Some of my best tracks are coming up soon. If we can continue to build cars as fast as we have for the first five races of the season, I'm confident we'll win our share of them soon." 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 Fontana. 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 worst than 12th (35th in his first race there back in spring 2002). 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. Here are his thoughts on the race: "It wasn't the finish we wanted, but I'm proud of the way our guys never gave up, and we kept trying to make my Lowe's/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevy better all day long." 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. LOOKING BACK: Biffle had a strong run at Fontana, one of his favorite tracks, not surprising, finishing sixth. Here's Biffle's thoughts on the race: "It was up and down. We were pretty good at the end. I'm not sure when the caution came out and I came out of the gas a little, so I'm not sure how it will all sort out. Still, overall a top-five finish for us is a great day. It was pretty crazy on the restarts at the end. These cars, with the big spoilers, get huge runs at the end." 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. 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. Here are Edwards' thoughts on the race: "Man, that was just an unbelievable race. It is so cool to come here to California and have a standard old school NASCAR race where tires make a difference. It was really a great show. I hope the fans enjoyed it. That is about as good as it gets." 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: After climbing seven spots after Bristol, Kyle Busch jumped up four more spots into sixth place after Sunday's 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. 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. Here are his thoughts on the win: "Man, feels so good to finally win with our Interstate Batteries Camry. We weren't going to win if it wasn't for those two (Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano) battling. If they would have been single-file and just racing, it would have went down in order. I can't say enough about all of Joe Gibbs Racing. Everybody at TRD -- we appreciate their support, of course. Being right here in California -- finally, finally we get the 'home' win for Toyota. Finally we get a win for Joe (Gibbs, owner) and for Norm Miller (chairman, Interstate Batteries) and all of Interstate Batteries dealers and distributors. I drove my butt off right there at the end." ETC.: Busch has completed 95.6 percent (7,684) of the 8,034 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Fontana. 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. Might it be next Sunday (the Sprint Cup circuit is off this weekend)? 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. Here are his thoughts on the race: "We battled ours for a while there. Just trying to get it right, get it to drive right, the track is rough and keep the grip. I felt like you could drive into the corner a little further; pick the throttle up a little more similar to some of the other tracks. It wasn't near the adjustment or change that I expected. It was less than I expected for this track." 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 continued to be one of the biggest surprises of the season, improving one spot in the standings from ninth to eighth 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 when the series resumes on April 7? 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 is proving 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 when the series resumes after the off-weekend. 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. Here's his thoughts on the race: "I'm really proud of my team. They have given me great cars all year long. Today, we finally got to show what kind of cars they have been giving me. We were up front, leading laps and showing how good this No. 22 Ford is. Once again today, my team showed they have my back and that will only make us better going forward." 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: There's really not much left for Hamlin to look forward to, not just next week at Martinsville but for several weeks afterward. At this junction, his season is all but over - including his championship hopes - due to the injury he suffered in a vicious wreck at Fontana that will likely sideline him for several weeks. 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. Because he was taken from the track to the hospital on a helicopter, Hamlin was unable to be interviewed after the race. ETC.: Hamlin has completed 97.0 percent (7,307) of the 7,534 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Fontana. His average start is 10.9 and average finish is an outstanding 8.2. He has one DNF there. 20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only four points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: While Kenseth is glad there is no race this weekend "for the crew's sake, they need a break," he wouldn't have been upset if there was a race on Sunday. "I'm really enjoying coming to the race track and seeing how good we are going to unload," said Kenseth. "They have been giving me great race cars. We've been in the hunt almost every week." LOOKING BACK: Kenseth finished seventh at California. "It was up and down, we sort of missed it a little bit," said Kenseth. "That last restart (with 11 laps remaining), the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), he ran into the back of me and knocked me sideways and lost about eight spots and then couldn't quite get back there (the top five). I thought we had good strategy, good stops - a great job at fixing all our problems, we were just off all day." ETC.: Kenseth said things couldn't be going better with his new team. "Every hour I spend with Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief), every person I get to meet at the shop, I feel better about it (the move to Joe Gibbs Racing) all the time," said Kenseth. "I felt great about it to start with, so there's a lot of enthusiasm. Expectations are really high." 17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, six points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse, a rookie on the Sprint Cup Series, said he has not set any specific goals for the season "but I don't think it is past us to win races. If you don't prepare to win every week, you will never achieve it. I think if we can be smooth the first 10 races and really not have any big issues and evaluate where we are and go from there it will set up the rest of the season off of that after the first 10." LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse finished 20th at California. "Our NOS Energy Drink Ford was stout the first five to ten laps on a run before it lost rear grip," said Stenhouse. "At the end we were making headway but chose to take two tires on the final caution (with 16 laps to go) which cost us. It was a gamble and if it would have worked out it would have been great. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't." ETC.: Stenhouse has been asked a lot of questions about his relationship with fellow driver Danica Patrick - probably more questions than he gets about his new Sprint Cup ride. For example, when was your first date? "We never really had a first date," said Stenhouse. "She kind of told me to ask her out so I asked her out on a date and we went to dinner. I should probably remember where we went but I can't remember." 78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet Team: Furniture Row Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, eight points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Busch has no special plans for the off week, but he knows the team is going to use the week "to take a few days off. They all really deserve it," said Busch. "It has been a busy off-season. What I am looking forward to is a nice smooth race once we get back going. That is something we haven't had this year." LOOKING BACK: Busch battled back from a pit-road speeding penalty to challenge for the lead before ending the day in fifth place. It was his second straight top-five finish. "I could have followed (brother) Kyle (on the restart with 25 laps to go) and just want to apologize to him for putting it three and four wide on the restart," said Kurt. "But I was hungry and going for the win and it's not normally a move you would make if you are pushing a brother. I could have pushed him to the lead. I was going for the win with this Furniture Row Chevrolet SS." ETC.: A lot of people may be surprised that Busch and the 78 team are finishing in the top five, but Busch quickly points out "We are a bona fide real team and like the fourth car from Richard Childress Racing. Barney Visser (the team owner) is giving us everything we need and it's an awesome feeling to do it the way we are doing it (being a team from Denver, Colorado)." 15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, eight points out of the top 10. Lost 10 spots last week to fall out of the top 10. LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer was not sure of his plans for the off week, but he said "I think I'm just going to Alaska. I'm leaving for somewhere. I'm going to be gone." But he quickly added that two members of the front office of Michael Waltrip Racing had "filled up two days of my off time. It's amazing how busy they can get you in a short amount of time." LOOKING BACK: Despite bouncing off the wall when he hit an oil slick early in the race, Bowyer seemed headed for a top-10 finish when he suffered engine failure with only 16 laps to go. He ended the day in 35th place. "That was such a shame," said Bowyer. "We had an amazingly fast 5-hour Energy Toyota today, but sometimes things just don't go your way - and today was one of those days. We hit the wall early, rallied back to where I thought we were going to get a top-10 and blew up with 16 to go. Tough day in the points." ETC.: Bowyer has asked a South Dakota judge to dismiss a motorcycle company's lawsuit against him that alleges he didn't pay for $31,000 of custom work it did on his Harley-Davidson. Bowyer said he repaid the debt through promotional services. He also says the court in South Dakota's Davidson County has no jurisdiction over him because his agreement with Klock Werks was made in Arizona, the motorcycle was purchased in Minnesota and it was delivered to him in North Carolina. Klock Werks argues that because the work on the motorcycle was done in Mitchell, SD, the South Dakota court does have jurisdiction. 29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 15 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick said he enjoys spending time at home with his new son and wife DeLana, and that is why he is "really looking forward" to this off week. "Sure we are together at the track, but it is just different at home," added Harvick. "It will just be nice to be home." LOOKING BACK: Harvick rallied from a pit-road speeding penalty to contend for a top-five finish only to run into handling problems during the final 10 laps of the race. "This (13th) was not the result our team should have left with today," said Harvick. "The Jimmy John's Chevrolet was really fast all day, we just lost grip and track position at the end. All those restarts at the end hurt us because it took us so long to get going." ETC.: Both car owner Richard Childress and Harvick wants Harvick's final year with RCR to be a highly successful one. "All I want to do is win this championship and when he leaves, I want him to leave on a high note," said Childress. "I want to have a long-term friendship with Kevin, even after he is gone. I am going to wish him well (when Harvick moves to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014)." 1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 20 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray had planned to spend part of this week testing at Richmond, but the test was moved to next Monday and Tuesday. "Now I can just spend the whole week with the family," said McMurray. "That will be a great way to get away from it for a few days. We don't get many breaks so you need to take full advantage of the few we get." LOOKING BACK: McMurray ran in the top 10 for most of the first half of the race, but ran into handling problems during the final 100 laps as he finished 19th at California. "The track was very unpredictable today," said McMurray. "We were both tight and loose throughout the race. Our Bass Pro Shops Chevy SS was really good in the early stages, but we just couldn't hit the right adjustments in the second half of the race to make a run toward the front of the field." ETC.: Even though the second half of the California race didn't go as well as McMurray thought it would, he is still excited about how much progress his team has made in 2013. "We are bringing better cars to the track," said McMurray. "We are unloading so much better this year. Sure, we need to get better. But we've come a long way (from how the team performed in 2012)." 43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 20 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola knows all of the crews are looking forward to the weekend off. "With this new car, all of the teams have been extremely busy just building cars," said Almirola. "So I'm sure all of them, ours included, will be glad to have a long weekend. But at the same time, they will be using this time to try and get ahead of the apple." LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished 14th at California. "That was a hard-fought top-15 finish," said Almirola. "We just couldn't find speed on the low line. Once we got the top, we were pretty fast especially when the tires fell off. The guys made good adjustments and really helped the handling throughout the race. Four tires was definitely the way to go for us on that last caution (with 16 laps to go)." ETC.: Almirola and Farmland Food donated $20,000 to the Second Harvest Food Bank serving Riverside and San Bernardino (Calif.) Counties last Friday at Auto Club Speedway. "Our team is proud to partner with Farmland in the Race to End Hunger," said Almirola. "We are excited to kick off race weekend by partnering with Farmland to make a difference in the Inland Empire." 24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 22 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon said he is "looking forward to a weekend off. We've got some great plans to do some skiing in the mountains with my whole family. Looking forward to that. It will be great to just get away with the family." LOOKING BACK: For much of the day, Gordon struggled with an ill-handling race car. But the team kept making changes and finally "hit on something," said Gordon "with about 25 to go." As a result, Gordon was able to end the day in 11th place. "We were really off to start with, but Alan (Gustasfon, crew chief) and the guys refused to give up and we were pretty good at the end," added Gordon. "To come out of here with a top-12 finish says a lot about this team." ETC.: While in California last week, Gordon was given a tour around Universal Studios by Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard. "It was awesome," said Gordon. "He's an amazing guy. I've enjoyed getting to know him and it's not surprising to me that's he's successful. He's passionate about what he does. He's been in the business for so long. He works extremely hard and he cares so much about it. He really wants to please the audience and I think that's so cool. That's why his movies do so well." 56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 23 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Truex said the start to the 2013 season has been "really interesting. The first two races I had very strong cars, but not much to show for in terms of results. The next two races, I had solid finishes and yet, I don't think those cars were as fast or as competitive as the ones I had in the first two events. And then at California, we just missed the setup. But all in all, I feel like we are in pretty good shape. We just need to keep making good decisions and keep trying to get our stuff better." LOOKING BACK: Truex finished 18th at California. "We missed it on the set up today," said Truex. "We made a lot of significant chassis changes that cost us a lot of track position, but we had to fix it as much as we could. There were times when my NAPA Toyota was downright evil. Some other good teams struggled with us. I saw Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin a lot. We gambled there at the end on track position and I just could not get the car to do what I needed. I guess we should have taken tires at the end. It was just a long day." ETC.: The Fourth Annual Catwalk for a Cause will be held May 15 at Michael Waltrip Racing. Kids from Levine Children's Hospital will play runway model to benefit the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation's Special Needs Fund at Levine. 39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 24 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Newman hopes the week off doesn't put a damper on the momentum the team is riding after two straight top-10 finishes. "It hasn't always been pretty the last two weeks, but we have been able to end the day in the top-10," said Newman. "And we are heading to one of our better tracks (Martinsville where he is the defending race champion). I hope we can keep this ball rolling." LOOKING BACK: It was a day of rallies for Newman. Early in the race, he struggled with an ill-handling race car, but the team made the right adjustments as he raced his way into the top 10. Then Newman was charged with entering pit road too fast on his final pit stop and put at the tail end of the lead-lap cars. This left him in 23rd spot with 11 laps to go. He charged his way to a 10th-place finish for his second straight top-10 finish. "I put us in a bad spot at the end with the speeding penalty, but fortunately we were able to rally back from that to finish 10th," said Newman. "The guys on this WIX Filters team did a great job today." ETC.: Newman is a big believer in the theory "you're only as strong as your weakest link. Every driver out there has the potential to be successful. The team, how the team adapts to this new (Gen-6) car is probably more important than how the driver adapts to the new car." 14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 37 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart is looking forward to getting away from the Sprint Cup Series and tackling his goal of competing in at least 100 races in 2013. "I like my night job," said Stewart. "My car owner is a pretty cool guy. He lets me go and play as much as I want. I can't complain about that." LOOKING BACK: Stewart was livid after having a chance to win the race with 25 laps to go and ending the day in 22nd place. He blamed a block by Joey Logano from keeping him from taking the lead on the restart. And as soon as he out of his car after the race, Stewart went immediately to Logano's car to express his displeasure with Logano. A punch or two was thrown before crew members separated the two. Logano threw a water bottle at Stewart. Stewart admitted he probably had a tire "going down" during the final 10 laps and that was the main reason for his finish. "It's still no excuse for Joey to do what he did," said Stewart. "I'm just tired of watching these kids whine and then they sit there and act tough when their crew guys get in the middle of it. If NASCAR wants us to let the guys have at it, it shouldn't be any difference than hockey. Let the guys have at it and then when one guy goes to the ground, then it's over." NASCAR announced Tuesday that Stewart would not be fined for his actions on pit road. ETC.: Stewart had not calmed down after changing clothes, but his language was a lot clearer as he walked out of his hauler. "Well, Joey spun his tires on the restart," said Stewart. "Everybody has trouble with that, but it's not my fault that he spun the tires. For a guy that has been complaining about how everybody else is driving and then for him to do that it's a double standard. He madee the decision to run us down there and when you run a driver down there then you take responsibility for what happens after that. If he ever turns down across in front of me again, I don't care what lap it is, he won't make it through the other end of it. If I didn't hit the chip, he wouldn't have made it through turn one to begin with. I'm tired of these guys doing that stuff, especially out of a kid that's been griping about everybody else, and then he does that the next week. After he threw the water bottle at me like a little girl, we'll go at it now." 9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 38 points out of the top 10. Lost eight spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose hasn't gotten off to the fast start that he thought he would. He felt that he and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer would begin 2013 just where they left 2012. "We haven't been as strong as I thought we would be," said Ambrose. "We haven't unloaded like I thought we would. I hope this break in the schedule will be what we need to start running like we thought we would." LOOKING BACK: Two cut tires ruined Ambrose's day as he finished 36th at Auto Club Speedway. "It's a frustrating end for us after having a fast Mac Tools Ford," said Ambrose. "We cut a (left-rear) tire and the guys did their best to get it fixed on pit road, but we cut another one and had to spend time in the garage (to fix the badly-damaged car). We were running in the top-15 and things were going well until we lost the tire. That ruined the race for us." ETC.: Ambrose said the new Gen-6 car has a "different feel. Each track we go to is different and they've got different tires and different handling characteristics on them, so I would say it's been a surprise to me how they've raced compared to how they've practiced. When you get all of that dirty air (from 43 cars) around you, it does make a big difference." 31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 40 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Burton hopes the break in the Sprint Cup schedule means an end to his run of so-so finishes so far in 2013. "The mindset of the company is to do what we have to do to be better," said Burton. "There is a commitment to a new philosophy (of better communication between the three RCR teams). I believe it will (be successful). We've just to show it (on the track)." LOOKING BACK: Burton finished 17th at California. "The 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team battled a tight condition all day except for one segment of the race," said Burton. "We fought hard all day and salvaged a top-20 finish. I'm proud of this team for not giving up. We just never could get the car freed up enough." ETC.: The 2013 season certainly hasn't started as Burton had hoped. He has only one top-10 finish in the first five races and sits in 24th place in the Sprint Cup standings. And he knows the slow start will just add to the rumors that his job is on the line if he doesn't do well in '13, the last year of his contract with RCR. "I'm tough enough to handle the pressure," said Burton. "If I wasn't, I would have never accepted a position 25 years ago to get paid by somebody. I know that he (Richard Childress) has sponsors that require and demand, as they should, success." 55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 43 points out of the top 10. Lost six spots last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Martin will actually take the next two weeks off as Brian Vickers will drive the 55 car at Martinsville on April 7. "I know Brian and the entire 55 crew will do real well at Martinsville," said Martin. "And I know I'll have another strong car when I get to Texas (for the April 13 race). I am really enjoying my schedule (running in 26 of the 36 races)." LOOKING BACK: The day certainly didn't go as Martin had envisioned after posting the ninth fastest speed in qualifying. His problems began on lap 36 when he hit an oil slick and bounced hard off the wall. After repairs were made to his car, he restarted in 34th place. Martin then raced his way into the top 15 when disaster struck on lap 176. Something broke in the rear end to send Martin spinning hard into the wall. He ended the day in 37th place. ETC.: Michael Waltrip Racing has hired professional CrossFit competition Christmas Abbott as a full-time pit crew member. She will travel to all the races in a pit support role. Her long-term goal is to go over the wall as a tire changer. "I've been training for several months," said Abbot. "This is the most challenging thing I have ever done." Waltrip was quick to add, "She is an incredible elite athlete and she has worked with our crews by bring some cross-fit elements to their workouts. We expect her to fulfill her goal one day." 10 DANICA PATRICK, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE SHE STANDS: 29th, 58 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. LOOKING AHEAD: Patrick, who turned 31 on Monday, plans to have "a week-long celebration. It will just be nice to get away for a few days and celebrate. I know the guys on the team are going to enjoy the time off too. They've been working hard getting all the cars ready for all the different tracks we've run on so far this year. It will just be a nice time to get away." LOOKING BACK: Patrick finished 26th at California. "We just had a tough Friday (when she qualified 40th) and Saturday and we regrouped on Sunday and put a new set up on the car and stayed optimistic," said Patrick. "The car started off a little bit loose but once we dialed that in, it was decent. At the end of the race I really thought it was pretty good. So I felt better at the end of the race than I did in qualifying. We made big improvements (over the weekend). We all want better than 26th, but that's what we had today and it will be better next time." ETC.: Patrick was named the favorite female athlete by Nickelodeon for the third time. She accepted the Kids' Choice Award and orange blimp trophy last Saturday night at the ceremony held at the USC Galen Center. "This is a huge award," said Patrick. "It means so much to me when I see you at the race track and you cheer for me." Patrick also won the award in 2008 and last year.