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NASCAR Driver Capsules - Nov. 7, 2012

The SportsXchange

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Thursday, October 25, 2012 -- Vol. 18, No. 35

NASCAR DRIVER CAPSULES

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange.

All Rights Reserved. Reprints, duplication or redistribution is prohibited without written permission from The Sports Xchange.

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Frank Cooney, Publisher

4632 Windsong St.

Sacramento, CA 95834

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2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Dodge

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Keselowski remained in first place in the Sprint Cup standings for the fourth consecutive week after Kansas. He leads second-ranked Jimmie Johnson by seven points for the second straight week, and his margin over third-ranked Denny Hamlin increased from 15 to 20 points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: ninth in spring 2012. Finished 17th in this race last year and was ninth in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski continues to remain among the steadiest drivers on the circuit, and with only four races left in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, now is the time for Keselowski to put some serious room between him and his top challengers in the standings. The only problem is that his two closest challengers, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, both do exceptionally well at Martinsville. Here are Keselowski's thoughts on Sunday's race at the gritty little half-mile bullring: "Martinsville is a place that I've learned to enjoy. Bristol is a place I took to immediately, but Martinsville requires finesse that can only be learned with track time. I never considered myself a great short-track driver, but one thing that helped me when I got to this level was that my dad made me travel around to different tracks when I was growing up. I raced a lot of different short tracks in the Midwest, and that made me more comfortable when I got into the upper levels of NASCAR. Those lessons will come in handy this weekend. Both the 48 (Johnson) car and the 11 (Hamlin) car will be fast, but I expect us to be as well. Our team has made great strides at Martinsville over the years. We qualified well and had a great race there in the spring. We probably deserved a top-five finish on that day. If we can have the same kind of run on Sunday, I'm confident we can keep our spot at the top of the standings."

LOOKING BACK: Keselowski didn't lead any laps at Kansas, but he did what he needed to do by finishing one spot ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who led 44 laps but finished ninth to Keselowski's eighth-place outing.

ETC.: Keselowski has completed 99.9 percent (2,521) of the 2,523 laps contested in his five career Cup starts at Martinsville. His average start is 17.4 and average finish is an outstanding 10.2. He has 0 DNFs there.

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Johnson remains in second place for the fourth consecutive week. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by seven points and leads third-ranked Denny Hamlin by 13 points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 21 career starts, 6 wins, 14 top-5s, 18 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: 1st in fall 2004, fall 2006, spring 2007, fall 2007, fall 2008, spring 2009. Finished second in this race last year and was 12th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: If Johnson is to make his move in the Chase, Martinsville will be the place he does it. And that means Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin will have to keep pace, lest JJ take over the points lead and storm forward to his sixth career Cup title by season's end. Here are Johnson's thoughts on Sunday's race: "Yeah, I am (excited to be returning to Martinsville). It should be a good track for us. We did the 2013 (car) test a month or so ago, so we've been on the track recently, and granted the cars aren't the same so it will be different, but at least we've had some laps on the track. We've done a little short-track testing that should pay off and make us more competitive. So as excited as I am, I know also that the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) is and I have to assume the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) is pretty charged up to go. But either way, I feel like it's a good opportunity for us to get points and hopefully if we're not in the points lead, we can get awfully close to it or take it there."

LOOKING BACK: Johnson led 44 laps at Kansas but faltered late, finishing ninth. He was able to keep pace with points leader Brad Keselowski, who finished one spot higher.

ETC.: Johnson has completed an incredible 99.5 percent (10,480) of the 10,534 laps contested in his 21 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 12.4, but his average finish is an uncanny 5.8. He also has 1 DNF there.

11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Denny Hamlin remained in third place for the fifth consecutive week after Kansas. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 20 points and second-ranked Jimmie Johnson by 13 points and leads fourth-ranked Clint Bowyer by five points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 14 career starts, 4 wins, 9 top-5s, 12 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: first in spring 2008, fall 2009, spring 2010 and fall 2010. Finished fifth in this race last year and was sixth in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin needs to make a serious move upward in the standings at Martinsville if he is to have any chance of overtaking points leader Brad Keselowski or second-ranked Jimmie Johnson. With four wins at Martinsville, Hamlin has a good shot at doing just that -- although don't forget Johnson has six wins at Martinsville. Here are Hamlin's thoughts on his championship hopes: "Well, (Kansas was) a race where when you got the other guys you're racing finishing eighth and ninth -- you've got to beat them, especially wrecked race cars shouldn't be there, so we just shot ourselves in the foot a lot (at Kansas). We'll just try to rebound at Martinsville. It's been a good track for us."

LOOKING BACK: Hamlin did not lead any laps at Kansas and finished a disappointing 13th, losing five more points to series leader Brad Keselowski in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

ETC.: Hamlin has completed 97.3 percent (6,841) of the 7,034 laps contested in his 14 career starts at Martinsville. His average start there is 11.3 and average finish is an outstanding 6.4. He also has 1 DNF there.

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Bowyer remained in fourth place for the second straight week after Kansas. He is 25 points behind series leader Brad Keselowski and 20 points behind third-ranked Denny Hamlin and leads fifth-ranked Kasey Kahne by five points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: fifth in fall 2008. Finished 19th in this race last year; ended up 10th in the this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer is still within striking distance in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, just 25 points behind series leader Brad Keselowski. However, time is running out with just four races remaining this season. If he's to remain in contention, he has to have an outstanding run Sunday at Martinsville. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We're going for the clock (winners at Martinsville earn a grandfather's clock). We've got a brand new 5-hour ENERGY Toyota. It's the first time that MWR has ever built a specific short-track car for an event. They did a really nice job. It's pretty special. We had a pretty good car in the spring. We had the opportunity to win the race in the spring. We all know how that worked out, but it was a solid race and a solid effort for us in the spring. I'm really looking forward to going to the race and going for that trophy. We want to beat the No. 11 and 48 at their own game."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer led five laps and finished sixth at Kansas, his home track. That allowed him to remain within reach of the top spot in the standings.

ETC.: Bowyer has completed 97.8 percent (6,389) of the 6,534 laps contested in his 13 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 17.0 and average finish is 14.7. He also has 1 DNF there.

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Kasey Kahne remained in fifth place for the second consecutive week after Kansas. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 30 points (five fewer than last week) and fourth-ranked Clint Bowyer by five points and leads sixth-ranked Martin Truex Jr. by 13 points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 17 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 2 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: second in spring 2005. Finished 25th in this race last year and was 38th in this year's spring race (after starting from the pole).

LOOKING AHEAD: With just four races remaining this season, Kahne needs to make a big move upward in the standings at Martinsville, lest he fall too far behind in the points in the last three races. The only problem is that Kahne has a less than stellar career record at Martinsville. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Our car was really fast at Martinsville in the spring. Even though we had some bad luck, it was a big week for the team to get the pole and show that speed. We went on our best streak of the year after that, so I hope we can go back and get the win this time."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne had a strong run at Kansas, leading one lap and eventually finishing fourth, to remain in the running for the championship.

ETC.: Kahne has completed just 91.7 percent (7,824) of the 8,534 laps contested in his 17 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is a mediocre 19.5 and his average finish is an even worse 21.7. He also has 4 DNFs there.

56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Truex moved up one spot in the standings from seventh to sixth; that makes two places gained in the standings in the last two races for Truex. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 43 points (six fewer than last week), is 13 points behind fifth-ranked Kasey Kahne and leads seventh-ranked Tony Stewart by four points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: fifth in spring 2010 and spring 2012. Finished eighth in this race last year. Was fifth in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Truex gained a little (six points) on series leader Brad Keselowski at Kansas, but he's still the equivalent of one win points-wise heading into Martinsville. Even worse, the half-mile Virginia short track is one of Truex's worst tracks. His remaining Chase hopes might hinge on Sunday. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "The thing about Martinsville that makes it so unique is the concrete in the corners. This place changes so much as you go through all the practice sessions and the Truck Series activities. The track gets rubbered up over the course of a weekend. The track was very, very green at the test. Come Sunday, it will be a lot different than the way it was at the test as well as the way it will be on Friday and Saturday. For me, Martinsville is one of the toughest tracks to get ahold of."

LOOKING BACK: Truex had an outstanding run at Kansas, finishing second. Unfortunately, he couldn't gain much in the points standings because the top two drivers, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, finished eighth and ninth, respectively.

ETC.: Truex has completed 94.4 percent (6,168) of the 6,534 laps contested over his 13 career starts at Martinsville. He has an average start of 17.7 and average finish of 21.4. He has 1 DNF at Martinsville.

14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After falling from second to eighth in the first five Chase races, Stewart rebounded by one position, from eighth to seventh, after Kansas. Still, the defending Sprint Cup champion remains a distant 47 points behind points leader Brad Keselowski, is four points behind sixth-ranked Martin Truex Jr. and leads eighth-ranked Jeff Gordon by four points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 27 career starts, 3 wins, 9 top-5s, 15 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 2000, spring 2006 and fall 2011. Finished first in this race last year and was seventh in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: If he is to have any chance of defending last year's Sprint Cup championship, Stewart will have to win all of the remaining four races on the Sprint Cup schedule -- and that's still no guarantee he can rally back from such a big deficit, particularly with the way Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin have performed in the first six races of the Chase. Here are Stewart's thoughts on Sunday's race at Martinsville: "It's still that old short-track feel. That's what I like. We run a lot of 1.5-mile tracks during the year, and it's the only place that races like this. We've got two half-mile tracks that we race on. This one's quite a bit different than Bristol, and that's what makes it fun. You can out-brake guys and you can run the outside if you get a shot. It's racing the way we all grew up racing."

LOOKING BACK: Stewart did what he needed to do at Kansas, earning a top-five finish (finished fifth), but he couldn't gain much on the points leaders as Brad Keselowski finished eighth and Jimmie Johnson finished ninth.

ETC.: Stewart has completed 96.0 percent (12,994) of the 13,534 laps contested in his 27 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 13.2 and average finish is also 13.2. He also has 1 DNF there.

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing as high as sixth in the standings, Gordon has languished in eighth place following the last two races. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 51 points and seventh-ranked Tony Stewart by four points and leads ninth-ranked Matt Kenseth by four points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 39 career starts, 7 wins, 25 top-5s, 31 top-10s, 7 poles. Best finish: first in fall 1996, spring 1997, fall 1999, spring 2003, fall 2003, spring 2005 and fall 2005. Finished third in this race last year and was 14th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon has arguably the best record of any active driver at Martinsville, so a strong finish in his 40th career start there Sunday isn't just hoped for, it's pretty likely. Still, considering that Gordon is 51 points behind series leader Brad Keselowski, Sunday could be the final race in which Gordon has a chance to make any significant headway in the Chase before he's mathematically eliminated in one of the three remaining races. Here's Gordon's take on Sunday's race: "Martinsville is just that kind of place where you get into a rhythm, and it's important when you get into traffic to maintain that rhythm or get back into it as fast as you possibly can. No other track demands the kind of rhythm needed at Martinsville. It's very easy to 'overdrive' the corners here. When you're around other cars, you have to change your line and change what you're doing in order to make a pass. It's important to jump right back into that rhythm that you had. That's part of the challenge that comes with Martinsville."

LOOKING BACK: Gordon barely managed a top-10 at Kansas, which was all well and good. But points leaders Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson (Gordon's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports) finished ahead of him in eighth and ninth position, respectively, minimizing any forward progress for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet in the standings.

ETC.: Gordon has completed 99.4 percent (19,269) of the 19,390 laps contested in his 39 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is an outstanding 7.1 and average finish is an equally outstanding 7.1. Perhaps one of the most outstanding facts about his career record there: In 39 starts, Gordon has never recorded a DNF at Martinsville.

17 MATT KENSETH, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kenseth climbed two spots, the most of any Chase driver Sunday at Kansas, from 11th to ninth place. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 55 points and eighth-ranked Jeff Gordon by four points and leads 10th-ranked Kevin Harvick by four points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 25 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: second in spring 2002. Finished 31st in this race last year and rallied to finish fourth in this year's spring race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth is going out in style, racing as if he can still win the Sprint Cup championship, but in reality he's all but mathematically eliminated. He has four more races remaining in his 13-year Roush Fenway Racing tenure before moving to Joe Gibbs Racing next season. Here are Kenseth's thoughts on Sunday's race at Martinsville: "I've always felt that throughout my whole career that Martinsville has always been one of my weakest links. I'm just not very good there. It's been a place that has been difficult for me to tell the guys exactly what I need from the car in order to run well there. Our performance has been a lot better there lately for the past three or four times we've raced pretty competitively, so I'm hoping to go there this weekend and get another decent run for our team and be able to keep improving upon our finishes at Martinsville."

LOOKING BACK: Kenseth won his third race of the season -- and his second in the last three races -- at Kansas. He had one of the strongest cars in the field, leading a race-high 78 laps.

ETC.: Kenseth has completed 98.9 percent (12,401) of the 12,534 laps he has contested during his 25 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is a mediocre 22.3 and average finish is a so-so 16.0. He also has 2 DNFs there.

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in 10th place in the standings for the second straight week after Kansas. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 59 points and ninth-ranked Matt Kenseth by four points and leads 11th-ranked Greg Biffle by three points.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 22 career starts, 1 win, 3 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 0 poles. Best finish: first in spring 2011. Finished fourth in this race last year and was 19th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Given that he is 59 points back with four races remaining, Harvick has virtually no chance of winning the championship. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I think Kansas (Speedway) was much more of a wild card than Martinsville (Speedway) will be. I think any race can be a wild card. You can have some crazy things happen at any time, so I really think every race is a wild card at this point, especially if you're in the championship race and need every point that you can get. You never know what's going to happen, when the caution is going to fly, when you're going to blow a tire, whatever the case may be. Anything can happen."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick finished a respectable 11th at Kansas, but points leader Brad Keselowski and second-place Jimmie Johnson finished ahead of him in eighth and ninth place, respectively. Another great effort wasted for the No. 29 team.

ETC.: Harvick has completed 97.5 percent (10,763) of the 11,034 laps contested in his 22 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 13.4 and average finish is 16.0. He has 0 DNFs there.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 62 points out of first place. Lost five spots last week.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Only two top-10 finishes in 19 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said, "Martinsville is one of those tracks where I have a love-hate relationship. You've got to keep the brakes on the car and keep the car turning good to be competitive. Track position is very important, so qualifying will be a focus. We can win there; we just have to be in the right situation. We have a brand new car for this weekend, and I feel pretty good about running in the top 10."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle was running fourth with 110 laps to go when he suddenly spun sideways in turn four and slammed into the wall. He ended the day in 27th place. "I lost it, man," said Biffle. "It got away from me off of four there and we wrecked it. The hard tires contributed to that and the new pavement (did, too). I knew it was going to be like that, but I didn't plan on it being me. I don't know what happened. That is the thing; they get away from you so quick. I had no indication, no little wiggle, no sideways anything. It just took off. It just got away from me and killed our day (and any hopes he had of winning the championship)."

ETC.: Biffle knows his chances of being the 2012 Sprint Cup champion are extremely slim. But he is not about to give up on the season. "We want to win another race or two and finish as high in the points as possible," said Biffle, who is only 19 points back of sixth-place Martin Truex Jr.

88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 122 points out of first place.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Finished third in the spring race for his fourth straight top-seven finish. In the last nine races, he has seven top-eight finishes, including two second-place finishes.

LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt has been cleared to race at Martinsville this weekend after sitting out two races because of two concussions he suffered in the space of six weeks. "Dale Jr. has done everything asked of him," said neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. "He hasn't had a headache since Oct. 12, and we have not been able to provoke any symptoms since that time. I had informed NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports that he is medically cleared for all NASCAR-related activity."

LOOKING BACK: Regan Smith drove the car for the second straight week as Earnhardt followed doctor's orders and took it easy. Smith finished seventh at Kansas. "It's been nice to be able to step in and have them treat me like their normal driver," said Smith. "All the guys on the National Guard/Diet Mountain Drew Chevy did a hell of a job. We had a really good car both races I was in the car."

ETC.: On Monday, Earnhardt ran 123 laps in a Sprint Cup car in a test monitored by Dr. Petty. The test took place at Gresham Motorsports Park, a half-mile track in Jefferson, Ga. Crew chief Steve Letarte was part of the test. "He (Earnhardt) looked great and ran some awesome laps," said Letarte.

CUT-OFF FOR "CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP"

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Seven top-10 finishes, including six top-fives, in 15 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch believes he has a good chance to get his first win at Martinsville this weekend because of teammate Denny Hamlin's success at the short track. "I think the biggest strides of improvement have come from just working with Denny and really getting his knowledge of how to get around the place," said Busch. "He's very good there. Learning his technique a little bit and getting to drive his cars -- that's really helped us."

LOOKING BACK: It was a long afternoon for Busch. First, he spun while running second on lap 40 of the 267-lap event. He didn't hit anything and was able to continue, but the car never ran as well after the spin. Then with 85 laps to go, Busch was hit by Ryan Newman and sent spinning hard into the fourth-turn wall to end his day in 31st place. "Everything is just on edge," said Busch. "You're really slipping and sliding and fighting for as much grip as you can find out there. Then Newman just ran up on the back of me and got me loose -- I've been loose all day -- and then he ran into the back of me and spun me out."

ETC.: Busch, naturally, was upset with Newman. "There's still 80-something laps to go (when Newman hit him)," said Busch. "I don't know what that was for or why or whatever, but I'm glad he's wrecked along with me, and he'll get another one here before the year is out."

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 53 points out of 13th place. Gained one spot last week.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Won the pole for the fall race a year ago and finished ninth for his third top-nine finish in the last five races. He finished 11th in the spring race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards admitted, "I am pretty slow at Martinsville. We have just been terrible there the last couple of years. The test in August helped a little bit. I think we have a better game plan, and if we can get a top five at Martinsville and run up front all day that would be a huge step for us."

LOOKING BACK: Edwards ran into handling problems during the final 45 laps and finished 14th at Kansas. "That was disappointing for sure," said Edwards. "We had a good run at Charlotte last week and were hoping to carry that momentum to Kansas (his home track). The car was just too loose at the end, and we lost track position after that final stop."

ETC.: Crew chief Chad Norris agrees with Edwards about Martinsville. "Martinsville has always been a challenge for us, so I know it won't be any easy weekend," said Norris. "We've got a good car and if we can get it to turn through the center (of the corners) and remind Carl to be patient so he saves his brakes, then hopefully we can come out of there with at least a top-10 finish."

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 61 points out of 13th place. Lost one spot last week.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Won the spring race. It was his 11th top-10 finish in 21 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "Martinsville is very much a finesse race track -- from the braking standpoint, but also the acceleration part of it, too. 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. But how you do it can make a really big difference in how good your car is for a whole fuel run."

LOOKING BACK: Newman ran in the top 10 for most of the day before running into the back of Kyle Busch with 85 laps to go. Newman was then hit by Sam Hornish Jr., which spun Newman through the infield grass. The damaged car underwent lengthy repairs in the garage before Newman returned the track. But he was unable to maintain the minimum speed required by NASCAR and was forced to park the car. Newman ended the day in 30th place. "I'm not real sure what happened out there other than the fact that he (Busch) got loose and I ended up hitting him," said Newman. "Then we got clobbered by the 22. We had a real fast race car."

ETC.: Newman will have a new crew chief this weekend at Martinsville, but actually it will be one he has worked with before when both he and Matt Borland were at Penske Racing. "I have good rapport with him personally and professionally," said Newman. "Hopefully we can rekindle some of that success we had winning poles and races." Together, Newman and Borland won 12 races and 37 poles, and Newman's worst finish in the point standings during their first four years together at Penske was sixth. Tony Gibson, who had been Newman's crew chief since he moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, will become Danica Patrick's crew chief.

27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 75 points out of 13th place.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. His best finish in 10 starts is 13th.

LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "Our short-track program has been our weakness this year. We've had good speed at Martinsville in the past, however. It's just a game of track position -- when to pit, when not to and when to put tires on. What makes it (Martinsville) difficult is it is a 500-lap race and you have only one lane with 43 cars on the track. It becomes a game of bumper cars, for the most part."

LOOKING BACK: Crew chief Slugger Labbe was back at the track after serving his six-race suspension for a rules infraction, and Menard couldn't have been happier. "We had Slugger back this weekend and he had some good ideas to try," Menard said after his best finish of the season, a third at Kansas. "And our Certain Teed/Menards Chevrolet was good. We hit on something yesterday (Saturday) morning that we liked, thought it was promising and stuck with it. Overall, I'm just really happy with the weekend."

ETC.: Menard admits, "This year we've lacked speed overall week to week. Last year we qualified really well, had a lot of good speed, but very inconsistent results. This year RCR as a whole has kind of lacked speed. We found some things in the last month or two that's helped us pick up overall speed. Even though we haven't been as fast this year, we've been more consistent. This (his top-five run at Kansas) is just one of the weekends where we put it all together."

9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 104 points out of 13th place. Gained one spot last week.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Has not finished better than 11th in seven starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "We've only got four races left so we need to round out the season with some good finishes, and that's exactly what we plan to do this weekend. Things happen so fast at Martinsville, so I'm going to have to be on top of my game so I can do my best to avoid any on-track incidents. We had a great car in Kansas last weekend, so we are going into Martinsville with a little momentum."

LOOKING BACK: Ambrose's hopes for a top-10 at Kansas finished ended on lap 169 when Joey Logano slowed right in front of him. Ambrose wasn't able to slow down fast enough and ran into the back of Logano. The contact sent Ambrose spinning into Trevor Bayne and then backward into the outside wall. Despite heavy damage to the rear of the car, Ambrose was able to rebound and finish 12th. "Wow, what a crazy race," said Ambrose. "I can't believe we got out of here with a 12th-place finish. All I know if Joey slowed in front of me and I didn't have anywhere to go. I'm just really proud of all my guys for all of their hard work (in repairing the car)."

ETC.: Ambrose believes he will be signing a contract extension with RPM in the near future. "We are all squared away as far as what the expectations are on both sides, and it is just a matter of finishing it off at this point," said Ambrose. "I can't see any reason why I wouldn't want to be part of Richard Petty Motorsports in 2013. There are a lot of good things to look forward to. We are all working together to get that done as quickly as we can."

20 JOEY LOGANO, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 107 points out of 13th place. Lost one spot last week.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Two top-six finishes in seven starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano hopes to put together another top-10 run in the Chase. "We've had some real good cars since the Chase started, and we have had some really good cars at Martinsville," said Logano, who has four top-10 finishes in the first six Chase races. "So I am looking forward to this weekend. I think we will bounce back from Kansas with a real strong run."

LOOKING BACK: With less than 50 laps to go, Logano was running in the top 10. But the car got extremely tight in the waning laps and Logano faded to 19th. "You don't get any more frustrating days than that right there," said Logano. "I don't know what was wrong with the Dollar General Toyota. We will take the car back to the shop and hopefully find out some more what happened. The more I was around guys the tighter the car would be. It was a frustrating day for sure."

ETC.: Logano has spent his entire Sprint Cup career with Joe Gibbs Racing and wants to leave the organization "on a high note" before moving to Penske Racing in 2013. "I sure would like to win another race for JGR," said Logano. "And I think we've got some tracks coming up where we have a shot to do just that."

31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 184 points out of 13th place.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Finished sixth in the fall race a year ago. Overall has one win and 16 top-10 finishes, including 10 top-fives, in 36 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Burton said, "Short tracks have been our strong point so far this season. We ran pretty well in April (at Martinsville) and typically Martinsville has been a strong track for us, so we expect to go there and run well. The track does seem to be changing lately and we've been a little behind the curve on setup stuff, but I feel pretty good about going back there and running well."

LOOKING BACK: Burton was cruising along when suddenly he was hit from behind by Tony Stewart. The contact sent Burton spinning as he slammed hard into the fourth-turn wall. Burton was forced to go behind the wall for repairs. He ended the day in 28th place. "I'm not exactly thrilled about what happened today on the track and if the roles had been reversed that accident would've never happened," Burton said. "I am proud of the CAT crew for working hard to get me back out on the track to finish the race for the second straight weekend."

ETC.: When asked what the difference was racing at Martinsville in April and October, Burton said, "There really isn't much of a difference. The weather is pretty similar. The biggest thing that changes is the technology. The sport moves so fast where something that works in April doesn't necessarily work in October. Keeping up with everyone else is the hardest thing by far."

1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 194 points out of 13th place.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Ten top-10 finishes in 19 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "We are taking a brand new car to Martinsville, so I am really anxious to get on the track to see if this car is as good as what I think it will be. Our guys have been working a lot of hours back at the shop working to make improvements to the cars, so I want to see the results for them as much as anything."

LOOKING BACK: McMurray finished 15th at Kansas. "Our guys worked really hard today on this Bass Pro Shops Chevy," said McMurray. "We were forced to short pit early (in the race) and got caught two laps down when the caution came out (shortly after he pitted). Our guys thrashed and never gave up; we got back on the lead lap and just battled through all the cautions to bring home a top-15 finish. It was a good afternoon."

ETC.: McMurray spent Tuesday and Wednesday tire testing at Phoenix. "Hopefully this will give us a step up when we come back for the race (on Nov. 11)," said McMurray. "We would like to finish the season on a high note, and a good run at Phoenix (in the next to last race of the season) would help us do that."

OTHERS

43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 230 points out of 13th place.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Finished eighth in the spring race for his first top-10 finish in seven starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola can't wait to "get back in the car. We showed last week at Kansas that we can run with the best of them -- and even outrun the best of them. We ran really well the last time we were at Martinsville and we're taking the same car back, and I think we've gotten even better on short tracks since then. I think we can definitely bounce back from what happened at Kansas and line ourselves up for another shot at a win."

LOOKING BACK: For most of the first half of the race, Almirola had the dominant car as he led three times for 69 laps. But then things started going wrong. On lap 121, the right-front tire blew, sending Almirola into the wall. Almirola was able to rebound and was battling for the lead again by lap 172 when he got loose and spun. Despite losing a lap, Almirola rallied and had climbed back to 13th when another right-front tire blew. This time the damage was too severe to continue. He ended the day in 29th place. "I have never in my entire life had a race car that good," he said. "It was so fast and so easy to drive. I feel like we certainly gave one away today."

ETC.: The team announced last week that it had re-signed with Ford. It will be the fourth consecutive year the team has raced under the Ford banner. As part of the new agreement, RPM will continue to receive engines from Roush Yates Engines and cars from Roush Fenway Racing. "Our team relationship with Ford Racing has helped us win races and be competitive in both the Sprint Cup ad Nationwide Series," said co-owner Richard Petty. "We expect to continue to win races and challenge for the championships in both series with the help of Ford Racing."

55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 341 points out of 13th place.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Martin will skip the race this weekend, and Brian Vickers will take over the driving duties of the 55 car. Vickers finished 18th in the spring race. Overall he has two top-10 finishes in 14 starts at Martinsville.

LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers is looking forward to driving the 55 car again. "This will be my last chance to drive the car this season, so I want to make the most of the opportunity," he said. "MWR has a real good short-track program, so I expect to have a real good weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Martin, who led twice for 60 laps, ran out of gas on the last lap of race and coasted across the finish line in 24th place. "That's disappointing, but it was a heck of a run today," said Martin. "We just couldn't buy a break. The caution fell every time we made a pit stop. I think we came from a lap down twice. We had a fast car -- our Toyota was awesome today. We'll get them in Texas (his next race)."

ETC.: Crew chief Rodney Childers has signed a contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing. "Rodney has just done a super job with the 55 car," said Waltrip. "He has had three different drivers (this season) with three different driving styles, and yet the 55 car has run well all year long no matter who was driving. That credit belongs to Rodney and the entire 55 crew."

78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Furniture Row Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 365 points out of 13th place.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: One win and four top-10 finishes in 24 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "We conducted a test session for the Martinsville race last week at the speedway in Sandusky, Ohio, and I was pleased with the performance. The flat track at Martinsville hasn't been one of my best venues, so it was important to get some testing in with the Furniture Row team."

LOOKING BACK: It was an up-and-down day for Busch. He ran as high as fourth before an ill-timed caution flag dropped him to 24th. He rallied to get back into the top 10 before getting caught up in an accident on lap 182 of the 267-lap race. Busch rebounded from that incident and was running 12th when his right-front tire blew with only 11 laps remaining. As a result, Busch finished 25th. "Our overall performance was indeed much better than our finish," said Busch. "There is no doubt in my mind that we had at least a top-five car (before the first accident)."

ETC.: Crew chief Todd Berrier was impressed with Busch's performance at Kansas. "Kurt Busch showed all of us today what an impressive driver he is," said Berrier. "It was hard not to be in awe of his driving skills. We're excited about the future, and the more races we work together, the better we will become." Kansas was Busch's second race in the 78 car. "It was the performance that counted today (at Kansas), not the finishing result," added Berrier.

22 SAM HORNISH JR., Dodge

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: His team ranks 21st in the car owner standings.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. Best finish in six starts is 13th.

LOOKING AHEAD: Hornish believes he has "shown steady improvement" at Martinsville every time he has been there. "At Martinsville, you just have to stay out of trouble, try to keep your nose clean and keep the brakes on the car as much as you can," he said. "The bottom line is you have to keep your cool and take care of your brakes, tires and fenders."

LOOKING BACK: Though he ran in the top 10 at times, it was a long afternoon for Hornish at Kansas -- he was involved in two accidents and finished 26th. In the first accident, Hornish ran into the back of a slowing Ryan Newman after Newman had hit Kyle Busch. Hornish was able to recover from this incident, but 54 laps later he was sent spinning when he was tagged by Kurt Busch. "We had a really good car over the long run," Hornish said. 'It's tough racing out there today."

ETC.: Hornish said, "When I first raced at Martinsville, I immediately thought of when I was growing up and racing go-karts. We used to run indoor hockey venues, and Martinsville reminded me of those smaller tracks like that. You can count on there being a lot of beating and banging on every restart at Martinsville, and there is always someone trying to get on your inside."

51 AJ ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet

Team: Phoenix Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 32nd, 535 points out of 13th place.

MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Finished second in the spring race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Car owner James Finch decided Tuesday to put Allmendinger back in the car. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbing back into the 88 car, it was expected that Regan Smith would drive the 51 car this weekend. But Finch decided Allmendinger deserved another shot after his strong run at Kansas and his second-place finish at Martinsville earlier this year.

LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger was running in the top 10 when disaster struck in the form of a blown right-front tire, which sent him hard in the third-turn wall. "I went into turn one, and felt it get really tight," said Allmendinger. "I actually radioed in and said, 'I'm pitting this lap.' I tried to save it and make sure it didn't blow. Unfortunately, it did. We were running so well. I thought we could have an easy top-10, if not top-five. Just so disappointed." Allmendinger finished 35th.

ETC.: After the Kansas race, Allmendinger wasn't sure what the future held for him. "I hope I'm back in the car next week," said Allmendinger. "I don't know, but if not, I want to thank James Finch, everybody at Chevy and Hendrick for giving me this opportunity. It has meant the world to get back in this sport. I love this sport, and I hope I'm back (for good)." Steve Barkdoll, general manager for Phoenix Racing and the team's spotter, was quick to praise Allmendinger after the Kansas race. "The way AJ performed the last two weeks, he deserves to be in a full-time ride," said Barkdoll.
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