By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
Capsules for all drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson climbed back into first place for the first time since the Week 25 race at Atlanta. He essentially swapped points and places with former series leader Matt Kenseth: Johnson trailed Kenseth by four points heading into Talladega this past Sunday and emerged leading Kenseth by four afterward. Johnson leads third-ranked Kevin Harvick by 26 points.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 23 career starts, 8 wins, 16 top-5s, 20 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2004, fall 2006, spring 2007, fall 2007, fall 2008, spring 2009, fall 2012 and spring 2013. Finished first in this race last year and was first again in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson comes into his most successful track this Sunday at Martinsville. His track record there is uncanny, with an unheard of 5.3 average finish. If he does as well as he usually does there on Sunday, he could begin to pull away from the rest of the Chase for the Sprint Cup pack and start closing in on his sixth career Sprint Cup championship. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Martinsville has been good to us in the past. We've got to go there and race. There is going to be a lot of strong competition. We will make sure we get buttoned up and ready to go for this weekend's race and go up there to that paperclip and see what we can do."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson was competitive at Talladega but like many other drivers, chose not to go for the win in the closing laps for fear of getting caught up in a big wreck. In essence, Johnson and the others played it safe and still wound up with a decent points day there.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 99.5 percent (11,480) of the 11,534 total laps contested in 23 career starts at Martinsville. His average start there is 11.4 and his average finish is an uncanny 5.3. He has one DNF there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After being on top of the Chase standings through the first six races, Matt Kenseth dropped one spot after Sunday's race at Talladega and into second place. He trails new points leader Jimmie Johnson by four points, and is 22 points ahead of third-ranked Kevin Harvick.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 27 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in spring 2002. Finished 14th in this race last year and was again 14th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth has gone from the hunted to the hunter, falling four points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson. Unfortunately, Martinsville has never been a very good track for Kenseth, while Johnson has shined there time after time. Kenseth will have to dig deep to keep pace with Johnson, lest the latter start pulling away towards a sixth Cup championship. Here's Kenseth's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I don't think (losing the lead) will affect my team. I think I have one of the greatest teams out here obviously and I feel like we can go everywhere else, and honestly we can race with anybody when we're at our best. Hopefully, we'll be at our best the next four weeks and we'll give them a run for their money."
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led 32 laps at Talladega but got shuffled back late in the race, ultimately finishing a disappointing 20th and losing the lead in the standings as well.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 99.0 percent (13,401) of the 13,534 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 21.2, while his average finish is 15.8. He has two DNFs there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in third place in the Sprint Cup standings for the third consecutive week and now finds himself tied with Kyle Busch, both 26 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson. Harvick and Busch trail second-ranked Matt Kenseth by 22 points and lead fifth-ranked Jeff Gordon by eight points.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 24 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2011. Was 32nd in this race last year (engine problems) and 13th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: If Harvick is to make one last attempt to win his first Sprint Cup championship, he has to win at Martinsville. Anything less won't be enough. He also has to hope series leaders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth have bad days, which is easier said than done. Here's Harvick's thoughts on Sunday's race: "Racing at Martinsville is definitely a challenge. You have the tight turns and you also have to worry about the tires falling off. It creates the ultimate challenge of keeping track position, dealing with the fall off of the car, deciding whether you want to be good on the start or end of a run, and when to get tires. There are a lot of challenges in strategy but also in balancing your car at Martinsville. So, not only does the race track itself create a lot to challenges with the tight racing quarters, but you deal with challenges in the strategy as well."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick finished 12th at Talladega, on the heels of a win at Kansas and solid sixth-place finish at Charlotte.
ETC.: Harvick has completed 97.5 percent (11,736) of the 12,034 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 13.7 and average finish is 16.6. He has one DNF there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch moved up two spots in the standings, from fifth to a tie for third place with Kevin Harvick. The pair trail new points leader Jimmie Johnson by 26 points and are 22 points behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth. They lead fifth-ranked Jeff Gordon by eight points.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 17 career starts, 0 wins, 8 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in fall 2012. Finished a career-best second in this race last year and was fifth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: It's hard to believe, but the younger Busch brother still has yet to win at Martinsville in his Sprint Cup career. He hopes to change that Sunday: "I certainly hope so. We were so close last fall and right on Jimmie's (Johnson) bumper for the win and we had a good car in the spring, too. 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. It's certainly a racetrack where you can be leading the race and think you've got a shot to win the thing in the last 30 laps, and then get beat on from behind and moved out of the way. It's certainly a racetrack where it's indicative that, if you're just a little bit off, then the guys are going to be right on your rear bumper and trying to get by you. For us, it's been a challenge, but we're getting better at it and learning some more as we go along. I'd like to think we're really close."
LOOKING BACK: Busch had a good run at Talladega, leading nine laps en route to a fifth-place for the second consecutive week.
ETC.: Busch has completed 95.9 percent (8,184) of the 8,534 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 13.7, while his average finish is 16.1. He has one DNF there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After sitting in fourth place for the two previous weeks, Jeff Gordon dropped one spot to fifth following Talladega. Gordon trails new series leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson by 34 points, is eight points behind the third-place tie of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and leads sixth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 18 points.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 41 career starts, 7 wins, 26 top-fives, 33 top-10s, 7 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 1996, spring 1997, fall 1999, spring 2003, fall 2003, spring 2005 and fall 2005. Was seventh in this race last year and third in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Martinsville likely make or break Gordon's remaining hopes to win a fifth Sprint Cup championship. While he has an outstanding record there, he also has to contend with the likes of teammate Jimmie Johnson, who has dominated during his career at the short half-mile bull ring. Here's Gordon's thoughts on Sunday's race: "It took me a while to figure out how to get around (Martinsville). During a test early in my career, we were just doing lap after lap after lap and finally it just clicked for me. We started having success after that. With all the experience and success that we've had here, that can carry over from race to race and even season to season. Because of that, we always seem to enter a Martinsville race weekend with confidence."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon led three laps but faded in the latter stages of the race at Talladega, finishing 14th.
ETC.: Gordon has completed an uncanny 99.4 percent (20,269) of 20,390 total laps contested in 41 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is an outstanding 7.2 and average finish is an equally outstanding 7.0. Remarkably, he has zero DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the biggest jump upward in the Chase standings after Talladega, moving from ninth to sixth place. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 52 points, is 18 points behind fifth-ranked Jeff Gordon and leads seventh-ranked Greg Biffle by one point.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 27 career starts, 0 wins, 10 top-fives, 14 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in fall 2008 and spring 2011. Finished 21st in this race last year and was 24th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt hasn't given up, he still wants to finish as high as he can in the Chase. He comes into Martinsville still seeking his first career Sprint Cup win there. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Martinsville isn't quite the momentum racetrack you think. If you get some clear room and a bit of space between you and your competitors, you can get into a rhythm where you're doing things repetitively from corner to corner that are working and that give your car speed. So it's not really about momentum as it is about repetition. You'll find a line that you like and just continue to repeat that or do little tweaks on it each time you go through the corner and find things that work and don't work."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt led 36 laps at Talladega and for a while there, looked like he might earn his first win since June 2012. Unfortunately, Jamie McMurray proved too strong and Earnhardt settled for his second runner-up finish in this season's last three races.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 98.8 percent (13,377) of the 13,534 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 13.8, while his average finish is 13.4. He has two DNFs there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After being ranked sixth for the previous three weeks, Greg Biffle fell one spot to seventh place after Talladega. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 53 points, is one point behind sixth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads eighth-ranked Clint Bowyer by four points.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: 21 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Seventh in fall 2007. Was 10th in this race last year and ninth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Without question, Martinsville Speedway is Biffle's all-time worst track. That's odd, however, because Biffle cut his racing teeth on short bull rings like Martinsville earlier in his career. While his last two races have ended with top 10 finishes, he's never been able to finish higher than seventh. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Martinsville hasn't been my strongest track, but we have definitely gotten much stronger there. We've finished in the top 10 our last two starts and learned some stuff testing there a few weeks ago. I'm looking for a strong run to head into the final few races."
LOOKING BACK: Biffle led five laps and finished just outside the top 10 at Talladega, winding up with an 11th-place showing.
ETC.: Biffle has completed 97.8 percent (10,304) of 10,534 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Martinsville. His average start is 20.3 and average finish is a mediocre 20.8. Ironically, even with his bad showings at Martinsville, Biffle has zero DNF's there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 57 points out of first place.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Finished second in the spring race for his third straight top-10 finish and fourth in the last five races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer said, "I love going to Martinsville. It's a great race track with a lot of history. Martinsville has been hosting races for over half a century and all the greats have raced there over the years. It really is a throwback in a lot of ways. It's a flat track like most of us grew up racing on. It's tight, flat and fenders definitely get used, it always puts on an exciting show for the fans and there isn't a bad seat in the house."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had high, high hopes for the weekend after winning two of the last six races at Talladega. But he was forced to settle for a tenth-place finish when the race turned into a single-file parade in the waning laps. "We had a fast 5-Hour Energy Toyota all weekend," said Bowyer. "We did our best to stay out of trouble and be as patient as we could, but in the end it just didn't work out like we thought it would. I thought for sure we would get a late caution, but everyone behaved themselves and it took us by surprise. It wasn't what we wanted for the day, but our car is one piece, I'm in one piece and we can move on to Martinsville."
ETC: Bowyer admits, "from where we are sitting it would take a lot of unbelievable good luck for us and unbelievably bad luck for a lot of real good drivers that don't often had bad luck (to win the championship) If we can win a race and get back into the top five from where we are right now that would be big for us to go into the offseason and get ready for 2014."
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 61 points out of first place. Lost two spots last week.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: One win and four top-10 finishes in 26 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "I love to hate Martinsville. It's been a tough race track for me. I've won there, but over the years I have had my struggles there. The good news heading into this weekend's race is that our Furniture Row Racing team tested at Martinsville and we came away feeling pretty good with what we learned."
LOOKING BACK: Busch finished 18th at Talladega. "Restrictor-plate racing is all about being in the right place at the right time," said Busch, who led twice for three laps. "We were in the right place for the majority of the race, but when it counted at the end we weren't there. I tried to make something happen, but couldn't get there. It's disappointing because our Wonder Bread Chevy was fast and to finish 18th didn't do us justice."
ETC.: In looking at the rest of the season, Busch said, "We have four (races) to go and want to make those our four best races of the season. We feel we can do that. We've got some good tracks coming up and we want to win at least one race before the year is over, and we want to finish as high as we can in the (point) standings."
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 68 points out of first place.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Five top-10 finishes in 18 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards will be running the same car this weekend that carried him to his second win of the season last month at Richmond. "Hopefully we can put together a good race in Martinsville," said Edwards. "I haven't been called 'curby" for a while (for hitting the curb in the corners), so I must be getting better there."
LOOKING BACK: With 20 laps to go, Edwards was battling Kyle Busch for the lead. But from that point on things didn't go as Edwards had envisioned as the three-wide racing suddenly turned into a single-file parade that left Edwards with no drafting partners. As a result, he was forced to be content with a 17th-place finish. "I thought we were in a really good spot and it just did not work out," said a dejected Edwards. "I tried my hardest and that is what we got."
ETC.: Edwards knows his chances of winning the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship are over, but he still wants to finish "as high in the standings as we can. We are only 16 points out of sixth so that is a realistic goal," said Edwards. "And we want to win another race or two before the year is over. We've got some good tracks coming up so we feel that, too, is a very realistic goal."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 72 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: One win and 11 top-10 finishes including seven top-five's in 23 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman feels "Martinsville is very much a finesse race track - from a braking standpoint, but also the acceleration part of it, too. You can really chew your tires up on the concrete (in the turns) before you get to the asphalt getting back on the gas, but how you do it can really make a big difference in how good your car is for a whole fuel run."
LOOKING BACK: Newman finished ninth at Talladega. "I rode around at the back all day basically just trying to keep my nose clean," said Newman. "I was waiting for something to happen the whole race, but it never really did except for that wreck on the last lap that unfortunately took out my teammate Austin Dillon. I've not had the best of luck at Talladega, so to be able to drive the car back to the garage is something I certainly feel good about."
ETC.: Newman's wife Krissie writes a monthly blog and in this month's blog, she talks about one of her passions - Rescue Ranch. "It's no secret that Ryan and I have been animal lovers forever," said Krissie. "Rescue Ranch was born after attending a Helen Woodward ACES (Animal Center Education Services) workshop. Based on the west coast idea of an animal center that included everything I could possibly dream one to be: humane education programs, an adoption center, boarding facilities and a vet clinic. With an 87-acre purchase off NC Highway 21 and my dad as COO, the dream began to take shape. On October 26, we'll celebrate our grand opening. And there is much, much more to come. Rescue Ranch, ultimately, will help the animals I love, plus connect humans and nature in a way that enriches the world we share."
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 75 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Only two top-10 finishes in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano believes "finishing fourth or fifth (in the point standings) is still an achievable goal, and Martinsville should be a good one (race) for us. We were able to test there a couple weeks ago and able to learn some things, some things to do and some things not to do which are equally valuable. We'll go there and try to get a win and a big grandfather clock and gain some points."
LOOKING BACK: Logano finished 16th at Talladega. "That was a lot more conservative race than I think anyone ever thought," said Logano. "There were a few times when it looked like there was going to be a big crash and there never was. In the end nobody wanted to go. I was back there trying to make a move to go forward, but once they all went single file up against the wall you are stuck back there."
ETC.: Logano believes NASCAR needs to make some changes on the cars before the next restrictor-plate race. "The bottom lane doesn't work (at Talladega and Daytona) because of these big shark fins on the side that doesn't let any air on the spoiler so it hurts the bottom lane so much," said Logano. "You aren't able to slow down the guy on the top because the fin blocks the air on the spoiler and you can't slow them down. That is why the bottom lane doesn't work and it is never going to work until they change that."
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 101 points out of first place.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Kahne finished fourth in the spring race to make it two straight top-four finishes.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne said, "We have a strong team, and we've been one of the best cars at times throughout the whole season. Hopefully we can hit on it again these last couple races and at least finish strong and get back in the top 10. I think at this point in time that would be a successful year for where we're at right now."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne began the race by dropping to the back of the pack in hopes of missing "The Big One (wreck)." But his plan backfired when he lost the draft and fell a lap down. To compound his problems, Kahne was later penalized for speeding on pit road. As a result, he finished 36th, two laps back of winner Jamie McMurray.
ETC.: Car owner Rick Hendrick has been named the 2014 recipient of the Keith Crain/Automotive News Lifetime Achievement Award, presented at the Washington Auto Show. "Rick has become an auto industry icon through his charity, hard work, grit and determination," said Keith Crain, chairman of Crain Communications and editor-in-chief of Automotive News. "He has achieved unimaginable success as an automotive dealer and NASCAR owner and he has persevered through unspeakable grief and continues to give back and that combination makes him unique and the perfect recipient of the lifetime achievement award."