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Virtual Pit Reporter: News on 25 Cup teams

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1) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Gordon wants an eighth grandfather clock for his collection, but the seven-time Martinsville Speedway winner knows that good brakes might ultimately determine who collects the grandfather clock as champion of the Goody's Cool Orange 500 Sunday. He plans to be more conservative on the brakes of his Chevrolet Impala SS on the tight, flat Virginia short track. "I expect we'll be using a lot of brake this weekend, maybe even more so than past Martinsville races," he said. "We'll go ultra-conservative on our brake package -- maxed-out for brakes and cooling for this weekend's race." Along with his seven wins, Gordon has collected five poles, 16 top-fives and 22 top-10s in 28 events at the 0.526-mile track. In his last eight races there, Gordon has visited Victory Lane four times and has led an average of 130 laps per event with a 3.25 average finishing position. But past success will not automatically translate into a strong run this weekend. Gordon knows there will be another learning curve this weekend as the teams prepare to race the new "Car of Tomorrow" at Martinsville. "Compared to Bristol, I think Martinsville should be a little bit easier to adapt to," Gordon said. "We don't have the loads, the banking and the drop-off transitions here like we had at Bristol. But the drivers and teams face a lot of unknowns again this weekend." The four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion enters this event with the points lead, the first time he has held the top spot since February 2005. Gordon has posted three top-fives and four top-10s in the first five races this season and has an average finish of 5.8. Only one other time has Gordon started the season with a single-digit average finish in the first five races -- in 1999 he had a 9.4. "We've battled the handling in a few of the races this year, but my crew chief, Steve Letarte, and the entire DuPont team have not let that get them down," Gordon said. "We went backward fast at Bristol but fought back. We struggled early at California but came back to finish second. We've been able to fight back from adversity to post good finishes. But we want more than that."
  • Last week: Gordon was in contention for the win but settled for third after the green-white-checkered flag finish at Bristol in the initial race for the "Car of Tomorrow." "I used more brakes at Bristol trying to get the car into the corner," Gordon said. "This new car seems to carry so much momentum, and it was pretty loose getting into the corner at Bristol. We played it conservative and upgraded our brakes for that race."
  • Etc.: Using the bumper on another driver is part of short-track racing strategy, but Gordon was surprised to see that there is a difference using that tactic with the COT. "The bumpers certainly line up a lot different," Gordon said. "In the past when you just got a bumper on the guy it lifted the back of the car. These cars push it forward. I think it's a lot different when you're running late in the race and you run a guy down from the straightaway back and then he puts a block on you, trying to protect his spot. Then you might be like, 'OK, I get one shot.' But when it's a green-white checkered (flag) you never really want to move anybody out of the way for a win. You certainly don't want to take a chance at wrecking them."

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    2) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton has one win, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 25 Cup races at Martinsville. He will drive the same car that he drove to a second-place finish at Bristol (chassis No. 191). "I think it will be two different situations," Burton said of the second COT race. "Bristol is a high-banked race track and Martinsville is one of the flattest tracks we compete on. They are two totally different race tracks even though they are both half-mile ovals. You will see drivers who have tremendous amount of success, or failure, at Bristol and then do the exact opposite at Martinsville. Martinsville offers the same amount of challenges that Bristol does as far as getting into each other and causing problems. The handling characteristics of the car are totally different. It's a big test for all of the teams not only in being competitive, but in being prepared. I think we're starting further toward zero. I think it's going to be a bigger challenge. We had 12 hours or so of testing at Bristol and we don't have that in Martinsville. Testing with a new piece is very advantageous. I think racing at Martinsville will be a bigger challenge than racing at Bristol just because we don't have any information. I think every team learned a lot from the Bristol test and will apply that knowledge to the race car we'll use at Martinsville. Teams are definitely in a building process, and it's easy to get lost, that's for sure."
  • Last week: Burton showed that he could race Kyle Busch cleanly during the final three laps of overtime at Bristol. He could have taken the inside line to nose under Busch's Chevy but realized it would probably cause a crash. So he finished second and took the points. "Obviously, I could have used the bumper and moved him out of the way and won the race, but I try not to do that," Burton said. "I can lay in bed tonight wondering what-ifs, but that's just what I chose to do. It wasn't because I wanted him to win more than I wanted to win. My mother always told me, 'Do unto other people as you want them to do you.' That's cool until they prove to you that they're not going to do that to you. I let them make the rules. If that's the rules they want to live by then that's the rules we'll live by. That's the only thing I know to do."
  • Etc.: Burton is one of only three drivers who have completed all total laps so far this season. Additionally, the South Boston, Va., native has completed 87.9% of the total laps (1,360 of 1,548 laps) running in the top 15, the most of any active driver this season.

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    3) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Johnson has two wins at Martinsville, both coming in the fall race there in 2004 and 2006. Johnson own three consecutive top-three finishes at Martinsville. His first race at Martinsville in the spring of 2002 is the only time Johnson hasn't registered a top-10 finish on the flat half-mile track in his 10 starts. "It's been a great track for us and we had a great set-up with the old car," Johnson said. "With the new car going back the set-up is completely different. There is nothing we can take back to that track and have it apply. I have a rhythm and a line that I use that will hopefully work in this car, but I won't know until I get out there. But I think that certain rhythm of that track is very important. So there is more driver input that I can take there more than anything."
  • Last week: After starting sixth, Johnson finished 16th at Bristol, breaking his two-race winning streak that began at Las Vegas and included a win at Atlanta.
  • Etc.: Jimmie Johnson's Victory Lanes -- a bowling alley at the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C. -- opens Thursday with Jimmie and his wife, Chandra, adding their contribution to the camp for kids in the memory of Adam Petty. "I wanted to get involved with the camp," Johnson said. "I grew up racing against Adam Petty and think what the Petty family has done with the camp is an amazing thing. Channy and I asked Kyle and Patty (Petty) what the camp needed and they really wanted a bowling alley. So it was more of a need that the camp had. I do enjoy bowling and had fun bowling when I was a kid, so I can see why it would be such a great fit for the camp."

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    4) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Kenseth has completed the third-most laps of any Cup driver at Martinsville in the last 10 Cup races (4,991 of 5,000). His average finish on short tracks (under one mile in length) in 2006 was 14.1. His average finish on all tracks last season was 9.8. He has completed every lap so far in 2007, one of only three drivers to do so (Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton). Kenseth has scored only three top-10 finishes at Martinsville, the lowest count of top-10s at any track where Kenseth has totaled at least 10 starts. Kenseth's only DNF (Did Not Finish) of 2006 was in April at Martinsville, when brake failure led to a turn-one crash with only seven laps remaining. He has one top-five in 14 races at Martinsville. "Martinsville has never been too kind to us," Kenseth said. "It's not that we've run terrible there; we've just never been able to compete on a regular basis. I'm not a big fan of the track. To me, it's just too narrow and too slow. It's like racing around two light poles in the middle of a parking lot. There's very little room to race and the turns are so tight and so flat that you have to go so slow through the turns and try your best not to move out of the bottom groove. Now, imagine doing that 1,000 times in one afternoon. I'm not sure how the COT will be there. Obviously, when we get on the track on Friday it will be the first time all of us have been there with that car, so it will be a learning experience for all of us. At Bristol, the car stayed pretty tight through the center of the turn, which is something you definitely don't want at Martinsville. If you come off the bottom of the track, you'll find yourself moving backward in a hurry. It's going to be a learning experience all weekend, but hopefully we're up to the challenge."
  • Last week: Kenseth started 38th and advanced all the way to 11th a Bristol, proving that he could pass with the COT.
  • Etc.: Kenseth will run the USG Sheetrock paint scheme this weekend for the first of three races this season (Chicago in July and Texas in November are the others).

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    5) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick is a former winner at Martinsville, claiming victory in the 2006 NASCAR Busch Series Goody's 250 on his way to capturing the NASCAR Busch Series championship. But he has never won a Cup race at the track, finishing no better than seventh on two occasions (last April and October 2003). He has four top-10 finishes in 11 Cup starts. "We work really hard on our flat-track program because we know it's one of my strong points," Harvick said. "Martinsville is one of those places where you have to have great pit stops and do everything right, and we have been able to do that. However, with the Car of Tomorrow coming in, it is going to throw a small monkey wrench into the whole deal, but I think, after our success at Bristol, we will be just fine."
  • Last week: Harvick overcame a 40th-place starting position to finish fourth at Bristol, putting him back into the top five in points.
  • Etc.: Harvick will also race Kevin Harvick Inc.'s No. 2 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday in the Kroger 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.

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    6) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Busch has one top-five finish and two top-10s at Martinsville in four starts. Busch has finished all but three of the possible 1,548 laps run over the first five events of the season for a 99.81 percent completion rate. He finished fifth there last year. "I would hope we can go back to Martinsville this weekend and improve on our fifth-place finish, but with the new Impala SS, who knows?" he said. "Last season we should have been second or third and got on the outside late in the going, got into some marbles and lost some spots on the restart. It's so hard to win races these days, and, to be honest, I would have never thought we'd win the first race in the Impala SS. It's been a big boost for this team. We've had three top-10 finishes this year and run so well. To get this win is like the monkey is off our backs, and we can focus more on the big picture. I'm looking forward to getting better at driving these cars and hope for more of the same results this weekend." Busch fell three laps down to the leader at Atlanta, marking the only race this season in which he has not led a lap.
  • Last week: Although Busch won at Bristol in the "Car of Tomorrow," he hated the new ride and was fairly outspoken about it afterward. "I still am not a very big fan of these things," Busch said. "I can't stand to drive them. They (stink)." Busch also said the cars drive like a "milk crate."
  • Etc.: Busch spent this week testing at Richmond International Raceway in preparation for the NASCAR Busch Series event on May 4. His Cup Series crew will hit the three-quarter-mile oval April 2-3 in preparation for the event on May 5. The No. 5 team tested at Caraway Speedway (Asheboro, N.C.) on March 20 to prepare for Sunday's race at Martinsville. Team manager Brian Whitesell grew up approximately 135 miles north of Martinsville Speedway in Stuarts Draft, Va. Whitesell has been an integral part of Hendrick Motorsports since 1992 and is responsible for the daily operations of the Nos. 5 and 25 shop. Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 5 Impala SS, will keep close tabs on this weekend's NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four -- his beloved Florida Gators play UCLA in hopes of making the championship game for the second consecutive season.

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    7) Mark Martin, No. 01 Chevrolet, Ginn Racing
  • This week: For the second consecutive week, Martin will not be in a race car on Sunday. He plans on going to Batesville, Ark., where he will have a big cookout during the race with some of his oldest friends. Regan Smith again will drive the No. 01 Chevrolet.
  • Last week: Martin did not go to Bristol last weekend, breaking a streak of 621 consecutive starts and giving up his Nextel Cup point lead. Martin instead spent the weekend at Colombia Motorsports Park in Lake City, Fla., overseeing the stock car debut of motocross sensation Ricky Carmichael as well as his son Matt.
  • Etc.: As promised, Martin spent Sunday's race on his couch with the remote in hand. "I can tell you that after a weekend watching at home, I'm a big race fan," he said. "I really enjoyed watching the race and I didn't have an anxiety or anything about not being there. My schedule is really the best of both worlds. I get to race and be competitive at doing that, and I get to stay at home some and have a life. I'm going to spend this weekend in Batesville, where we are planning a big barbeque with some of my friends there. Then we'll have our fan days at the museum on Easter weekend, and then I can't wait to get back in the U.S. Army Chevy at Texas, where hopefully we can go out and compete to win the race."

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    8) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: This will be Bowyer's third Cup race at Martinsville. He finished 22nd in this race last year and 23rd at Martinsville in the fall. In five Cup races this season, Bowyer has earned three top-10 finishes, including two season-best sixth-place efforts at California and Atlanta in addition to his eighth-place run last weekend at Bristol. The Emporia, Kan., native is eighth in the standings and has completed 98.19 percent of the laps contested this season. By comparison, he was 14th in points heading into Martinsville's first race last year and had only one top-10 finish. "I like Martinsville," Bowyer said. "Obviously, we got in a wreck and struggled in my first Cup race, but I had a really strong truck last spring and I felt like we could have won the Busch race in July. Had it not been my teammate (Kevin Harvick) in front of me, we would have won, so I have had some success at Martinsville and run well. Obviously, the talent level, once you get to the Cup side, picks up quite a bit. I feel like once we get there, especially as well as the Jack Daniel's Chevrolet ran last week at Bristol -- all three RCR cars, for that matter -- we'll all be very well prepared and should be in position to run well."
  • Last week: Bowyer started 18th and finished eighth at Bristol.
  • Etc.: In 94 previous Cup starts at Martinsville, RCR has earned three poles and posted six wins between Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt. Additionally, team owner Richard Childress has earned 22 top-five and 36 top-10 finishes there, dating to April 10, 1972. Childress, a former driver in NASCAR's top division, contributed four of those top-10s from 1976-78. While Bowyer has only four starts (two Cup, one Busch Series and one Truck Series) at Martinsville's tricky half-mile oval, his crew chief, Gil Martin, won the 1994 Advance Auto Parts 500 NASCAR Busch Series (NBS) race with driver Kenny Wallace.

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    9) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: This will be Hamlin's fourth start at Martinsville in a NASCAR Nextel Cup car, but his history there dates to his late model career. Most recently, Hamlin led 28 laps and battled eventual winner Jimmie Johnson down the stretch in one of the 2006 season's most memorable finishes. He made his debut at the half-mile in October 2005, scoring an eighth-place finish in only his third career Cup start. Martinsville is also home to the only DNF of Hamlin's Nextel Cup career -- a lap 307 incident forced him from the spring race of the 2006 season. Hamlin competed in the annual "Taco Bell 300" and "Bailey's 300" late model events on five occasions from 2000-04. Hamlin won the pole for the race in 2003 and recorded finishes of 15th, 12th, seventh, 10th and third, respectively. "I love coming here, and after a couple of good shots at winning I feel like we are due for a good day," Hamlin said. "Between my spotter, Curtis Markham, who has a handful of clocks from his racing days, and Tony's (Stewart) success there I am constantly reminded that unless you have a clock to your name you haven't been successful at Martinsville. This track means a lot to me going back to my late model days, and I get to line up here in front of family and friends that have been behind me from the very beginning. It comes down to wanting to do well here as much for them as I do for myself."
  • Last week: Hamlin led the Food City 500 on two occasions for a total of 177 laps before mechanical trouble late in the race dashed his hopes of challenging for the win. Hamlin was leading eventual winner Kyle Busch when an incident in front of him forced him low to avoid contact but allowed Busch to pass as the caution flag came out. On the ensuing restart, fuel pump trouble similar to that suffered by teammate Tony Stewart earlier in the race left Hamlin down on power and he quickly dropped to sixth before ultimately crossing the line a disappointing 14th. "I felt like we had the car to beat today, but the caution just fell at the wrong time for us," Hamlin said. "If we had gone green to the end I think our car would have been fine, but on the restart we had a mechanical issue and there was just nothing we could do to hold on at the end. It seemed like it was a fuel pump problem. We just weren't picking up any fuel plus we knew that the No. 20 already lost theirs, so right away it was a question of if we were going to make it to the finish."
  • Etc.: Hamlin thinks there could be some unintended consequences involving new items on the COT and the unique layout of Martinsville Speedway. "The combination of the curbing and the (COT) splitter has been a topic of conversation for us because it is possible to use that curbing to manipulate the car depending on how it's handling," Hamlin said. "For us it's tough to say what effect it will have, how much rod height we will have vs. the curb height, so we'll have to see what happens. You know, we saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. finish third with really no front end at all, so of all places to damage that splitter, Martinsville might not hurt you too bad. It's a lot like Bristol in the sense that if you are running at the end you have done a good job."

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    10) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Edwards has two top-20 finishes in five Cup starts at Martinsville, with a best finish of 12th last October. "It's a lot of fun to race there," Edwards said. "It's probably one of the toughest tracks for me in the Cup car, but I'm still really looking forward to the race. If we can have a decent qualifying run in the Office Depot Ford I think we can race well there. A lot can happen in 500 laps, and at Martinsville things like pit strategy and tire management can make or break you." Crew chief Bob Osborne has prepared chassis RK-466, a brand new Car of Tomorrow. "Martinsville is a difficult track," Osborne said. "I would say it's one of the tracks we've struggled the most with. We need to qualify well so we don't go a lap down early in the race. This will be a tough track for us, but I think we will only get better and hopefully we can continue our momentum from the last several weeks."
  • Last week: Edwards overcame a 32nd starting position to finish 12th at Bristol. He also won Saturday's Busch race there.
  • Etc.: Edwards' best finish at Martinsville came in 2003, when he finished second in the Craftsman Truck Series race. He started that race from the pole position

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    11) David Stremme, No. 40 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Stremme finished 15th last fall at Martinsville for his best finish at the track during his rookie season. He will be happy with a duplicate finish this weekend. "We're getting the top-15 finishes and doing what we wanted to do to start the season," says Stremme, who has three to date in the five races run.
  • Last week: Stremme thought he was headed for his first top-10 finish of the season, but things didn't go as he had envisioned in the final 20 laps as he ended up 13th. "It's disappointing we didn't get a better finish, but we had a good run today," said Stremme. "That's probably the best I've ever run in a Cup car at Bristol."
  • Etc.: Stremme is elated with how the season has started. But he knows "it's so early. If we're 10 or 12 races in and still right around 10th (in the standings), I'll be really excited and flattered. The main thing is we're real competitive when we unload. Everybody is doing their part and we've just got to keep building."

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    12) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Stewart won the spring race a year ago at Martinsville for his second win there. He has finished fourth, first and second in the last three races at the track, giving him nine top-10 finishes in 16 starts. Stewart will be racing a brand new chassis this week, its only track time having come on Tuesday when JGR development driver Aric Almirola tested it at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway.
  • Last week: Stewart was hands-down the driver to beat at Bristol as he led 257 of the first 288 laps. But this was another occasion when the best car didn't win the race. Stewart was forced to pit while leading when the fuel pump cable broke. The crew replaced the cable, but it took 25 laps to get the job done. Stewart ended up 35th to drop from sixth to 12th in the standings.
  • Etc.: Stewart ranks first in five statistical categories in NASCAR's season-to-date loop statistics. He is first in miles led (466.82 miles). He tops the list in laps led (441, or 186 more than runner-up Jimmie Johnson. He ranks first in the driver rating category. He leads the way in fastest laps run with 161 and in green flag speed with a 3.333 rating. The green flag statistic ranks each driver's green flag speed throughout the race.

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    13) Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Sadler prefers the spring race at Martinsville -- he has scored two straight top-10 finishes in the first race of the year at the flat track, and his third top-10 finish came in the spring of 2003. He is still looking for his first top-10 in the fall.
  • Last week: After starting third at Bristol, Sadler ran near the front of the pack before cutting a tire and having to make an unscheduled pit stop. He was never able to recover from this and finished 27th, four laps back of winner Kyle Busch. "Some days are just like this," said a disappointed Sadler.
  • Etc.: Sadler says the key this weekend will be the fact that "three (Evernham) teams work very closely together and share information. That will be invaluable this weekend at Martinsville. Finding the right balance is the secret for a fast race car."

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    14) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte has two top-five finishes in the last three races run at Martinsville. He won the spring race in 2002 for his lone win there. In 28 starts at the speedway, he has 13 top-10 finishes. Labonte spent the first part of the week testing the car he will run this weekend. "Martinsville is a place where it's about keeping the fenders clean and using a lot of brakes," Labonte said.
  • Last week: Labonte overcame an early race pit stop penalty for speeding and a late race spin to finish 22nd as he moved into 14th place in the standings. "This car was just really tight," said Labonte. "We worked on it all weekend. We have something to study now."
  • Etc.: Labonte believes "this new generation car is going to react differently at Martinsville. The cars will slow down a little more because there is more 'drag' on these (COT) cars. It will react a little bit more like the Craftsman Truck Series trucks do. It's possible we could see more (brake) problems than we've seen in the past (few years)."

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    15) J.J. Yeley, No. 18 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: In his two starts at Martinsville, Yeley's best finish is 20th. When asked to describe the track, Yeley replied, "To me, it's like putting cones out in the parking lot and racing around them. It's really hard to pass and there's really not a whole lot of two-wide racing. Qualifying is crucial since track position is key."
  • Last week: Yeley led once for nine laps at Bristol, but he was forced to go behind the wall on lap 120 to have the engine header pipe replaced. By the time he returned to the track, he was 29 laps down. He ended up 36th. "We had a top-five car," said a dejected Yeley. "It's that simple. It was definitely a disappointing day as our Interstate Batteries Impala SS was very good, but we never got to show it."
  • Etc.: Yeley believes "there is going to be a huge difference" between Bristol and Martinsville when it comes to the COT. "The teams have been working really hard on the travels in the car so they can run a different kind of spring," says Yeley. "That was very difficult to do at Bristol because you see so much load because of the banking there. Martinsville is virtually a flat race track, and it's going to take a completely different setup."

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    16) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: When Biffle says, "Martinsville has not historically been a good track for me," he is right on the money -- his best finish in eight starts is 17th. But Biffle quickly adds, "We're taking the same car that we finished fifth with at Bristol last week. Obviously, it was a good car for us and I feel confident taking it to Martinsville this weekend."
  • Last week: Biffle was all smiles as he climbed out of his Ford Fusion after finishing fifth at Bristol. "We had great pit stops today," said Biffle, who jumped from 27th to 16th in the standings. "I had a great, great race car. This is what this team is made of. We've had about four of these runs now, but this is the first time we've finished." Following the race, NASCAR announced that the car was "too low," but it later was decided that Biffle will not be penalized.
  • Etc.: Crew chief Pat Tryson says, "I think everyone learned a lot last weekend as far as how these COT's are going to handle, and we'll just take what we learned and try to apply it to Martinsville. We have a realistic goal to finish in the top 10."

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    17) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Earnhardt finished fourth in last year's spring race at Martinsville for his sixth top-five finish in 14 starts at the track. He scored five consecutive top-five finishes at the speedway between April 2002 and April 2004. "We've always been strong at Martinsville, and all I want or expect from my guys is that we're in the ballpark when we unload that car," says Earnhardt. "If we're close, then we're going to be all right."
  • Last week: Earnhardt finished seventh at Bristol for his first top-10 finish of the season. This enabled him to jump nine spots in the standings to 17th. "I can't say it was fun because I drove my butt off to just make it through the day," said Earnhardt. "We spun out and just kept at it. I'm really happy to get a top-10. The whole team earned that one."
  • Etc.: Max Siegel, president of Global Operations for DEI, said before the race at Bristol that he believes Earnhardt and DEI will sign a new contract by May. "All of the issues are properly framed," said Siegel. "That's a realistic goal." Negotiations have been put on hold after Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, Dale's sister, underwent surgery March 23 to remove tumors from her pancreas.

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    18) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: McMurray has scored five top-10s in only eight starts at Martinsville, including a second in the 2004 fall race. McMurray tested the car he will run this weekend on Monday at Carraway Speedway. "Halfway through the Bristol race, we lost our brakes, which is not something that you want to happen at Martinsville," says McMurray. "The test (including a new brake package) went well, which gives us a lot of relief going into Martinsville."
  • Last week: McMurray finished ninth at Bristol for his second top-10 finish in the last three events. This allowed him to jump six spots in the standings to 18th. "Every week this year we've had a good car, we just got in those two accidents in the beginning (of the season)," said McMurray. "You've got to take baby steps to get better, and every week we seem to get better."
  • Etc.: Both McMurray and crew chief Larry Carter were quick to praise the work of the pit crew at Bristol. "We knocked off some of our fastest pit stops of the season," Carter said.

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    19) Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Montoya will be making his Martinsville debut this weekend. He knows that the flat, paper clip-shaped track will be a "real test." He plans to run as many laps as possible in all three practice sessions to get ready for the 500 laps Sunday.
  • Last week: An early race spin put Montoya in the catch-up mode for the rest of the Bristol event as the rookie driver finished 32nd. "We had a pretty decent car," said Montoya. "We were running the bottom and one of the guys came down on me and spun me completely (on lap 137). I lost two laps just trying to get it started, and we had a vibration in one of the tires (forcing another unscheduled pit stop)."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Donnie Wingo doesn't think Bristol will help Montoya and the team get ready for this weekend's race. "They are two different animals," says Wingo. "I hope we don't have to run as much spring in the right front" as the team did at Bristol. "It was really hard to get a good balance on the car."

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    20) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Busch has posted four top-10 finishes in 13 starts at Martinsville, including a win in the 2002 fall race. He will be driving a new COT this weekend. Busch says Martinsville may be the smallest track on the circuit, but "it presents about the biggest challenge around. It's about endurance, durability, patience and teamwork all wrapped up in one package."
  • Last week: After finishing a disappointing 29th at one of his favorite race tracks, Busch was hit on the cool-down lap by rookie Regan Smith. The contact sent Busch hard into the outside wall. "Man, that about says it all for the way our day went," said Busch. "We started far behind and never could really dig ourselves out of the hole."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Roy McCauley believes "our days spent testing at Milwaukee, Kenley and Greenville will definitely be much more beneficial to our effort at Martinsville (than Bristol, where the team struggled)."

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    21) Robby Gordon, No. 7 Ford, Robby Gordon Motorsports
  • This week: Martinsville has not been a good track for Gordon. In 13 starts at there, his best finish is 20th and nine of his finishes have been 30th or worse. Gordon says "Martinsville has always reminded me of turn 11 at Sonoma. You get down, get on the brakes, off the brakes and roll the center (of the corner) and get back on the power."
  • Last week: Gordon fought an extremely ill-handling race car all afternoon at Bristol as he finished 33rd. "Loose, loose, loose," said an obviously frustrated Gordon.
  • Etc.: Gordon is tied for 20th, but he is only 78 points out of 12th place. "We're going to Martinsville tied for 20th, and that's a huge advantage going into another short track with these new cars," says Gordon. "We can work on race setup the whole weekend and not have to worry about qualifying like a lot of teams do."

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    22) David Ragan, No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Ragan's debut at Martinsville was a memorable one, but for all the wrong reasons as he struggled throughout the long afternoon. After causing many a caution flag that day, Tony Stewart called Ragan "a dart without feathers." Ragan smiles when reminded of the comment. "We're certainly looking forward to a lot better run this weekend," says Ragan.
  • Last week: Ragan brought out three caution flags during the long afternoon with solo spins. But he was still able to finish 26th at Bristol and win the Raybestos Rookie of the Race award as the top-finishing rookie. "Some guys didn't give me much slack and some guys did," said Ragan. "I hate that we got spun out there at the end (on lap 498). It cost us five or six spots. I'm worn out, I won't lie."
  • Etc.: Ragan's father was the one who told him about Stewart's comments. David said he told his father, "Man, that's pretty cool -- at least Tony Stewart knows who David Ragan is. Six months ago I was a kid wanting his autograph; now he knows who I am. It didn't bother me at all. Things like that, I think, just make you a tougher guy, (make you) have more respect for the series that we're competing in now."

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    23) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: In 10 starts at Martinsville Speedway, Newman has won two poles, finished in the top five four times and been in the top 10 on five occasions. The car he will be racing this weekend has never been on a track. "Our debut in the new COT cars didn't go as well as we had hoped last week in Bristol," says Newman. "The team is hoping to have better luck this week in Martinsville. Our best finish is a third and we'd like to improve on that this week."
  • Last week: It was a long afternoon for Newman as early tire problems forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop and fall two laps back. Then, late in the event, he got caught up in an accident that ended his day in 39th place. "I thought we had a really good car," said crew chief Michael Nelson. "We were real happy with the way the car ran up to that point."
  • Etc.: In the first five races of the year, Newman has completed only 94.64 percent of the laps run and has led only three laps. Those are two of the biggest reasons why he stands 23rd in the standings.

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    26) Casey Mears, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Mears earned his first top-10 finish, a sixth, last fall at Martinsville. He will be making his 150th Cup start this weekend in a new car he tested last week. Crew chief Darian Grubb grew up in Floyd, Va., which is located about an hour northwest of the speedway. He hopes for a top-10 run this weekend at his "home track."
  • Last week: Mears rallied in the final half of the race to finish 10th at Bristol. It was his first top-10 of the season, his first top-10 at the track and his first top-10 with Hendrick Motorsports. "Today was a big lift for our No. 25 National Guard/GMAC Chevrolet team," said Mears, who came into the race in 32nd place in the standings. "It was a great result under pressure."
  • Etc.: Mears spent the first part of last week testing at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., and making an appearance at the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia. The school fosters careers in motor sports for inner-city students through educational programs and internship opportunities.

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    27) Jeff Green, No. 66 Chevrolet, Haas Automation Racing
  • This week: Green has only two top-10 finishes in 13 starts at Martinsville, but the second one came last October when he finished eighth. It was the first race after Harold Holly had been named crew chief for the 66 car. Green spent several hours "shaking down" the new car he will drive this weekend at South Georgia Motorsports Park, near Valdosta, Ga., on March 19.
  • Last week: Green finished sixth at Bristol. The finish was not only the first top-10 of the 2007 season for the team, but it also stands as the best Cup finish in the history of the Haas organization. "If this is the future (the race was the debut of the Car of Tomorrow), maybe this is the future for our team and for Best Buy and for Haas racing and everyone involved with our team," said an elated Green after the race. "I'm just excited for my guys."
  • Etc.: Green believes his top-10 run at Bristol is the "momentum builder" that the team needs. "We know we can do this," added Green. "This is a momentum builder for sure and pride builder for sure. Hopefully we can just carry this one. Next is another short track race for these COT cars and hopefully we can do the same thing there."

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    Tagged: Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Rudd, Regan Smith, Robby Gordon, David Ragan, Jeff Green, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Aric Almirola, Kenny Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Elliott Sadler, Kevin Harvick, David Stremme, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin

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