Martinsville, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - After competing at its biggest
racetrack, Talladega Superspeedway, last weekend, the Chase for the Sprint
Cup championship has moved on to the smallest track on the schedule,
Sunday's 500-lap race at Martinsville -- 0.526-mile in length -- is the only
short-track event in the Chase. It's also the one track that current points
leader Jimmie Johnson looks forward to the most during the 10-race playoffs.
Johnson's 13th-place finish compared to a 20th-place run for Matt Kenseth at
Talladega allowed Johnson to take a four-point lead over Kenseth.
It's the first time Johnson has led in the Chase point standings this year.
Kenseth had been atop the rankings for the first five Chase races. Johnson is
attempting to win his sixth Sprint Cup Series championship.
"When we're leading in points, it's certainly helpful," Johnson said. "It's a
place where I'd rather be, in the lead defending, than trying to get points
and get ahead. I like the position that we're in.
"In years past, the pressure has weighed on me differently. I think through
the experience of winning those five (series championships) and being in the
sport as long as I have been, that I'm really in a position that I want to be
in, and I hope to stay here for the rest of the year."
Johnson has started on the pole and won the past two races at Martinsville. In
April, he led 346 of 500 laps. Johnson ran in front for 193 laps in last
year's Chase event here.
In 23 races at Martinsville, Johnson has scored eight wins, 16 top-five
finishes, 20 top-10s and three poles. His average finish of 5.348 is tops
among all active drivers at this track.
Johnson has won three consecutive races at Martinsville in the past. He
claimed the victory in the October 2006 event and then scored a season-sweep
here in 2007.
"It's been good to us in the past," he said. "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."
Every Chase-era champion has finished among the top-10 in the fall race at
Martinsville. Brad Keselowski's sixth-place finish here one year ago is the
worst by the champion. Tony Stewart won at this track en route to his third
series title in 2011.
Kenseth has struggled at Martinsville in the past, recording just three top-
five finishes and eight top-10s in 27 races. His best finish here is second,
which came in the spring of 2002. He has finished 14th in the previous two
events at this track.
After Martinsville, the Chase heads to Texas (1.5-mile track) and then Phoenix
(1-mile) before the season concludes at Homestead (also 1.5-mile).
This is Kenseth's first season as driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs
Racing, and four of his series-leading seven wins this year have come at mile
and a halfs.
"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," Kenseth said. "Hopefully, we'll be at our best the next four
(races), and we'll give them a run for their money."
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are both 26 points behind Johnson, while Jeff
Gordon, a four-time series champion and seven-time Martinsville race winner,
trails his Hendrick Motorsports teammate by 34 points.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is sixth in Chase points (-52), followed by Greg Biffle
(-53), Clint Bowyer (-57) and Kurt Busch (-61).
Tenth through 13th are: Carl Edwards (-68), Ryan Newman (-72), Joey Logano
(-75) and Kasey Kahne (-101).
Chevrolet can clinch its 11th consecutive and 37th overall Manufacturers'
Championship in NASCAR's top series this weekend at Martinsville. If the top-
finishing driver for Chevrolet finishes ahead of the top-placing driver for
Toyota, then Chevrolet will secure the title in the first year of the Gen-6
Aric Almirola will run the No. 41 Ford at Martinsville, rather than his
customary No. 43, in honor of NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Maurice Petty, the
chief engine builder for Petty Enterprises during its seven championships.
Petty ran nine of his 26 career Cup races in the No. 41.
Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the Goody's Headache Relief Shot
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Oct. 27. Race: Goody's Headache
Relief Shot 500. Site: Martinsville Speedway. Track: 0.526-mile oval. Start
time: 1:30 p.m. ET. Laps: 500. Miles: 263. 2012 Winner: Jimmie Johnson.
Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.
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