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Virtual Pit Reporter: News on top 25 Cup teams

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1) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton continues to plod along and protect his lead in the Nextel Cup point standings, which now is 45 points over Matt Kenseth. The native of nearby South Boston, Virginia, will drive chassis No. 175 this weekend at Martinsville. The car was built brand new for 2006, and it's the same chassis he drove to a ninth-place finish at Richmond in September to secure a spot in the Chase. He also drove this car to a seventh-place finish at New Hampshire. Burton has one win, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 24 starts at Martinsville. He has not had a DNF at the track in 21 starts, dating to 1996. In April at Martinsville, Burton was involved in an accident following contact with another car and finished 33rd. He finished fifth in this race last season. "We actually ran very well at Martinsville in April," Burton said. "Most people don't like Martinsville, but it's one of my favorite race tracks. It's a huge challenge and a very difficult and demanding physical race. It's a demanding mental day as well. It's one of the most unique race tracks we go to. It's obviously very tight and real easy to get caught up in a wreck and just as easy to cause a wreck. Our short-track program has come a long way. I feel really good about it. We have a really good car we are taking there."
  • Last week: Burton started sixth and finished third at Charlotte to open his lead in the Chase. "We're not going to take ourselves too seriously yet," Burton said. "We'll continue to put a good effort together; we hope we can get some good results. You can't worry about the things you can't control; you worry about the things you can control. There are other things going on in the world, too. The sun is coming up tomorrow, regardless of what happens next Sunday."
  • Etc.: In 91 previous 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 at the .526-mile paper clip-shaped track dating to April 10, 1972. Childress, a former driver in NASCAR's top division, contributed four of those top 10s from 1976-78.

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    2) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: If Kenseth is going to gain ground on points leader Jeff Burton, he's going to have to improve his performance at Martinsville. He has just three top-10 finishes at Martinsville, the lowest number of top-10s at any track where Kenseth has at least 10 starts. His average finish of 17.2 at Martinsville ranks sixth among the 10 tracks in the Chase. Kenseth's average finish on short tracks this season is 14.8; his overall average is 9.9. Take out two finishes at Bristol (third and first), and Kenseth's average finish on short tracks in 2006 is 23.3. He has started 25th in this race the last two years and finished 12th last year. He has no wins and one top-five in 13 Martinsville starts. "Martinsville is one of our tougher tracks and it hasn't been too kind to us for sure," Kenseth said. "I'm just not a big fan, mostly because it's so slow and there's no room to pass. Racing at Martinsville is kind of like racing around two cones out in a parking lot somewhere. That being said, we have to stay focused on the job at hand and that is trying to score a top-10 finish this weekend. This is the race that I knew would be the toughest for us going into the Chase. Some people point to Talladega, but I've always pointed to Martinsville as the real wild card for us. If we can get a good finish this weekend I think we'll be in good position to make a run at the title, because we've had success at the remaining tracks."
  • Last week: Kenseth started 11th and finished 14th at Charlotte, dropping from five points out of the lead to 45 behind Jeff Burton with five races left.
  • Etc.: Kenseth and the No. 17 team will be flying the R+L Carriers colors this weekend for the third and final time in 2006. He will drive chassis No. RK-164, which last ran Martinsville in April and finished 24th. It ran both Martinsville races in '05, finished 12th and 11th.

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    3) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick is halfway to becoming the first driver to win two titles in the same season after clinching his second career Busch Series title Friday night at Charlotte. "Anytime during the season, it's always nice if you can get something out of the way early," said Harvick. "In our situation, when we're running for both, it's nice to get that Busch championship locked up. We're excited about it, proud of what we've done this year, and hopefully we can do what we need to do on the Cup side in the next five weeks. It's been a pretty full plate to achieve everything we've set out to do in the Busch car, and it's pretty gratifying that we set a plan, stuck to it and it all worked out. Obviously, to try to get the Nextel Cup championship is our main focus. That's what we all really, really want." Harvick is third in Nextel Cup points, 89 behind RCR teammate Jeff Burton. Harvick gained one position in the standings last week but has to improve his Martinsville record of just three top-10 finishes in 10 career starts if he hopes to catch Burton. "I think Martinsville is one of the places where you have got to qualify well and need to run up in the front to have a good day and not get tore up," Harvick said. "It's a typical short-track race. You can run good all day long and then have something go wrong at the end. If we can stay out of trouble, I think we have as good a chance as anyone to win." Harvick finished seventh at Martinsville in April.
  • Last week: Harvick climbed one position in the standings with an 18th-place finish at Charlotte.
  • Etc.: Now that Harvick has clinched the 2006 Busch title, he plans on some changes for 2007. "We are going to probably run somewhere between 24 and 25 races next year," he said. "Probably some will be with KHI (Kevin Harvick, Inc.), but split it up between the two organizations. We haven't quite gotten to where we need to be at KHI." ... Team owner Richard Childress, an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, is spending the week hunting in British Columbia, and that could spell trouble for the competition. In April, Childress was hunting big game in Africa when Harvick captured his first win of the season at Phoenix. In September, Childress went hunting in Alaska while Harvick went on to win the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire.

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    4) Mark Martin, No. 6 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Martin, who is 102 points out of the lead with five races to go, will use chassis RK-221, a Ford Fusion that finished 11th in its last run, at New Hampshire in September. The car finished fifth at Richmond, fourth at New Hampshire in July and was dominating earlier this year at Phoenix. It is the car Martin used to win the All-Star Challenge in 2005. He has two wins, 11 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes in 41 races at Martinsville. He also has three poles at the short track. "It's pretty much no secret that I don't care much for racing at Martinsville, but that seems to have little to do with success, as they keep reminding me that I have a pretty good record there," Martin said. "I love Pocono and have never won there, so I guess it doesn't matter that much if you love a track or not. Martinsville can be physically demanding, and a lot of times you leave there feeling really worn down. Martinsville has always been a real challenge for me, because in the end, it just doesn't fit with my driving style. But we ran OK there in the spring, and we like the car we are taking back this time."
  • Last week: Martin survived a hard slam into the fourth-turn wall at Charlotte when he collided with J.J. Yeley, who was trying to pit from the high line on the race track. The crash took Martin out of the race and left him with a 30th-place finish. "We had a good run going at Charlotte last week, and it's just unfortunate that our night had to end that way," Martin said. "Still, that kind of stuff happens, and all we can do is come back as strong as we can and go into this week looking to win the race."
  • Etc.: Jeff Burton regards Martin, his Roush Racing teammate for nine years before Burton left for Richard Childress Racing in August 2004, as his mentor. He admits a bit of sadness that Martin might not win a championship, but in his mind he's still a champion. "If Mark Martin is a cursed individual, then life isn't fair at all," Burton said. "People look at championships as a way of defining greatness, but Mark Martin is a great racer. If Mark Martin never wins a championship and never wins another race, it won't matter because he's left this sport better than it was when he got here."

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    5) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Inc.
  • This week: Fifth in points with five races to go, Earnhardt believes he has a shot at the title despite being 106 points out of the lead. "We're in good shape considering we finally got our first good finish of the Chase (a fourth at Charlotte)," Earnhardt said. "We're still in it, and we've got good tracks coming up. Jeff (Burton) has been at this a long time, but I don't look at him as indestructible. If he has a mistake or even a couple of bad runs, it will completely shake up the points. In the first two races of the Chase, we finished 13th and 21st, and that put us 100 points out. We didn't blow up or anything. It was just a case of a good car getting mediocre finishes. So anything can happen." Earnhardt has two second-place starts (most recently in April 2003) and two third-place finishes (most recently April 2004) in 13 starts at Martinsville. He finished 18th in this race last year after starting 20th. He has six top-five finishes in the last nine races at Martinsville.
  • Last week: Earnhardt started 16th and finished fourth at Charlotte.
  • Etc.: When asked what concerns him the most at Martinsville, Earnhardt had an emphatic answer: "Brakes! Just getting the brakes to work all day," he said. "You can really wear 'em out at Martinsville, so the key is trying to save them throughout the race and saving your equipment for the end. It's a tough little ol' track because you can never get away from anybody. There's always someone to race, whether it's a lap-down car or for position. We need to qualify a little better than we did last time so we don't get caught up in some crashes. I think the last three times we've been there, the best we've started was 20th. But we're taking a good car. It's the one we finished fourth with at Martinsville last time, so we should be able to race like hell and give 'em a show!"

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    6) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: The Subway 500 will be Hamlin's third start at Martinsville in a Nextel Cup car. He made his debut at the half-mile in October 2005, scoring an eighth-place finish in only his third career Cup start. In his last start at the half-mile track, Hamlin bobbled in qualifying, then found trouble on lap 307 to record his only DNF of the season. Hamlin's history at Martinsville dates to his late model career and competing there 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. "Martinsville is like no place else," Hamlin said. "It's a challenging place to pass, so you have to set your car up to be able to roll through the center and be back on throttle as early as possible. You're forced to really work on guys to pass them, and I think that's something drivers really like about the track. It's a fine balance here. You try to conserve your equipment, but you have to drive pretty aggressively and you are packed in with 42 other cars, so beating and banging is part of the deal." He will drive JGR 105/133, the best short-track car in the No. 11 stable. Most recently, Hamlin drove this car to a fourth-place finish at New Hampshire in the opening race of the Chase. Before that, Hamlin used this car to win the pole and lead 19 laps from the green at Richmond before a burned sparkplug wire forced him to complete the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 on seven cylinders. This car posted a sixth-place finish at New Hampshire in July and finished second at Richmond in May after qualifying seventh.
  • Last week: Hamlin was involved in a second-lap crash at Charlotte, but his team worked to get the car back on the track and he managed a 28th-place finish.
  • Etc.: Hamlin will make his sixth career Truck Series start this weekend at Martinsville when he takes the wheel of the No. 46 Chevrolet Silverado. Hamlin last participated in a truck race in October 2004, when he scored a 10th-place finish at Texas.

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    7) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Johnson hopes to continue his upswing in the standings with a solid race at Martinsville. He enters the race seventh in the points, 146 behind leader Jeff Burton. This is Johnson's 100th consecutive week in the top 10. "I can't wait to get back," Johnson said. "That's been a great race track for me. I think it's a chance where I can score some points on some of the guys like Matt Kenseth and maybe (Jeff) Burton -- even though Burton has been strong there. I really like the track, and I think it's a chance for me to get some points. At Martinsville, you can't get away from anybody. You have a chance to get caught up in somebody else's wreck or somebody else's problem and take you out of a good points day. So I do look at it as a wild card race. I'm excited to go there. We usually run really well at Martinsville." Johnson will drive chassis 48278, which finished third in the first Martinsville race this year and 10th at New Hampshire in September. Chassis 48354 will serve as backup. It raced at Phoenix and both Richmond races this season. Johnson has posted eight consecutive top-10 finishes at Martinsville, the most of any driver. "We're in a no-pressure situation," he said. "We have nowhere to go but up. And if we were leading the points, we'd be more worried about protecting right now. And we're not in that situation." Johnson has one win, five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in nine races at Martinsville.
  • Last week: Johnson finished a solid second place at Charlotte to remain alive in the Chase.
  • Etc.: Johnson's game plan for the last five races in the Chase is simple: "If we can go out and run up front, fight for wins and finish up front like we did (Saturday night at Charlotte) the rest will fall in place," he said. "If we don't get to the championship, I want to finish as high as I can in the points this year. I've got a record of being in the top five every year so far. I want to keep that going. The racer in me, I want to finish as high as I can regardless of the championship."

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    8) Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Kahne has one top-10 finish (second in April 2005) in five races at Martinsville. He finished 17th in this race one year ago and 35th in April, his only DNF at Martinsville. Kahne has led in just two of his races there and has a 17.6 average finish, which ranks seventh among the 10 Chase drivers. Kahne has 18 top-15 finishes and has 16 top-10 finishes in 31 races this season. One year ago he ranked 21st in the standings.
  • Last week: Kahne scored his series-high sixth win of the season, leading 134 laps en route to complete a two-race season sweep at Charlotte. "We had a great car," said Kahne, who also won the Coca-Cola 600 there in May. "We've had some great races; it's just tough when you are racing the guys you are racing against."
  • Etc.: Despite his 160-point deficit, Kahne isn't giving up hope of winning the championship. "We're still in it as much as anybody," Kahne said. "I don't feel like I'm out of it at all. We can make up as many points as possible and still get back in this thing." But Kahne also noted that he wouldn't trade any of his six wins for the title. "The six wins is huge," Kahne said. "To come into the season with one Nextel Cup win and then to get six more is great. I think wins are awesome. There is no way Jeff Burton has had as fun a year as we've had. I wouldn't give up any of these wins."

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    9) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: After 31 races this season, Busch is ninth in the standings with one pole position, one win, nine top-five finishes and 17 top-10s. Busch's fifth-place finish last spring is his career-best Cup result at Martinsville. He finished ninth there one year ago. Crew chief Alan Gustafson has selected chassis No. 263, the same car Busch drove to a fifth-place finish in the spring event. "Martinsville is a tricky place," Busch said. "I've never qualified very well there but have been able to come through the field pretty well. Last spring there was a green-white-checkered finish and I was up to second but slipped in some oil dry and fell back to fifth, so we're certainly capable. The biggest thing I've learned as a driver -- because as a rookie I'd never seen the track before -- is how the groove moves around during the race. The track gets a ring of rubber buildup around it -- which is usually one groove out from the bottom of the track -- and when your tires get into that groove it shoots you out toward the wall. The best thing to do is to try to keep under it or straddle it to keep yourself in line. It creates a situation as a driver where not only do you have to play defense, but you have to play offense as well."
  • Last week: After starting 18th, Busch finished sixth at Charlotte.
  • Etc.: Busch tested at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., on Oct. 5 to prepare for Sunday's Martinsville event. He will drive the No. 15 Chevrolet Silverado for owner Billy Ballew in Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville. Busch has made one truck start at the track, scoring a fifth-place finish in 2005.

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    10) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: In his last seven starts at Martinsville, Gordon has four wins and an average finish of third. And after three consecutive DNF's in the first five races of the "Chase," Gordon needs some wins. After he got as high as second in the standings, the misfortune of a broken fuel pump at Kansas, getting collected in a wreck at Talladega and an engine failure with only 31 laps remaining after leading in Charlotte has dropped Gordon to 10th. "It looks like it's just not meant to be for us this year," said Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. "From here on out, we just go out there and try to win races." With 75 career wins, including victories this season at Infineon Raceway and Chicagoland Speedway, and a track record at Martinsville that consists of seven wins, five poles, 15 top-fives and 21 top-10s in 27 starts, Gordon is ready to add to his win list starting with Sunday's Subway 500. "I always love racing here, and I think a lot of that has to do with my driving style," said Gordon. "Everybody has their own technique for getting around this place. The DuPont team deserves a lot of credit as well. They consistently bring great cars to this track." And after this recent series of DNF's, Martinsville is one place where Gordon has never suffered one. In addition, he swept the two scheduled races here in both 2003 and 2005 and was runner-up there earlier in the season. Only three times has he finished outside the top 12 at the short track.
  • Last week: Gordon was running with the leaders and appeared to be ready to climb in the points before a blown engine sent him to the garage at Charlotte.
  • Etc.: Gordon believes his team will find some answers that will help it excel this weekend. "We've got some things we're working on that will hopefully take us to that next level, and we're trying to raise the bar in the performance of the cars," he said. "One of the things that holds you back the most is that you're always searching. I know how good our cars are here. I know how to get into a rhythm of what I'm looking for here. We don't just search here -- we attack."

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    11) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Stewart has either won or had an excellent shot at winning in the last three Martinsville races. He won there last spring, his second win at the short track, and was second there last fall. In the 2005 spring race, Stewart led four times for 247 laps before a broken right front wheel ended his victory hopes.
  • Last week: After finishing 13th at Charlotte, Stewart said, "all the credit goes to Greg (Zipadelli, crew chief) tonight. I've been struggling here all weekend. I think part of it was because the last two times I left this track I left in an ambulance. I give him the credit for making the car adjustable enough to get us where we needed to be."
  • Etc.: Stewart, who was not a big fan of racing at Martinsville when he first started racing in the Cup Series, said the difference is "you learn how to protect the car. You learn how to not beat it up. You learn it's a lot more fun racing when you use a lot more patience. Patience seems to be the biggest variable that can hold you up at a place like Martinsville. Needless to say, after going there a couple of times, I've learned how to be patient -- out of necessity, basically."

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    12) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Edwards' 16th place in the spring race at Martinsville is his best finish there. He finished 26th, 38th and 24th in his three other starts. Like his Roush Racing teammate, Greg Biffle, Edwards knows he has to run better at the short track if he wants to challenge for a future championship.
  • Last week: Edwards finished eighth at Charlotte for his fourth straight top-10 finish as he pulled to within 213 points of 11th place and the million-dollar bonus that goes to the driver who finishes in that position. "We were good, just the wrong pit strategy at the end," said Edwards. "We should have taken two tires and got better track position. It's nice to run that well, considering they changed four springs (before the race) and had no clue what it was going to do."
  • Etc.: Only three drivers -- Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson -- have scored more top-10s this year than Edwards' 17. The first three have 19 apiece.

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    13) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Biffle admits that he struggles at Martinsville, and he knows he needs to start running better at the short track to boost his future championship aspirations. In seven starts there, his best finish is 17th, and he has led only six laps.
  • Last week: Biffle finished 37th at Charlotte after suffering engine failure early in the race. "I finally had a good race car, we were running top-five and we had an engine problem," he said. "It's real disappointing, but you know the guys work really hard in the engine department and I'm sure it's a parts failure."
  • Etc.: Biffle is not a big fan of the idea of having a separate point system for the 10 drivers in the Chase. "I don't think we want to just make a separate point system and only separate them by five points because there wouldn't be any consistency to that," Biffle said. "I think the way that they have it (now) works pretty well."

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    14) Casey Mears, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Martinsville has not been a good track for Mears. His best finish in seven starts at the short track is 17th (twice). His five other finishes are 22nd or worse.
  • Last week: Mears was not a happy camper after finishing 12th at Charlotte. "We had a car that was capable of a top-five finish," said Mears. "We came on pit road and the caution came out and put half the field or more a lap down. It's frustrating because we had a car that could have been in the top five, and we ended up running 12th because of that caution."
  • Etc.: Mears, who leads the Closers category with a total of 61 positions gained during the last 10 percent of the races run this year, topped the charts in the first day of testing this week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In fact, his primary car as well as his backup car posted the top two speeds on Monday afternoon.

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    15) Brian Vickers, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Vickers finished eighth in the spring race at Martinsville, his first top-10 finish at the short track. "We had a really, really good run there in the spring," said Vickers, who will turn 23 on Oct. 24. "It hasn't been one of my better tracks, but we've improved and I've improved. You have to learn to take what the car is giving you at Martinsville and try not to force the issue."
  • Last week: Vickers finished 10th at Charlotte for his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. "We've got a lot of momentum going for us right now, and there are still a lot things we can accomplish," said Vickers, who occupies the 16th spot in the standings. "Last year, we finished 17th in the standings, and we want to improve upon that and our number of top-fives and top-10s. All of those goals are in sight right now."
  • Etc.: Vickers said things have quieted down for him since his controversial victory at Talladega. "I knew what once we got to the track at Lowe's and back to business, things would die down and they did," said Vickers. "Jimmie and I have had a chance to talk about what happened and make our peace, which was an important part of the process."

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    16) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Busch has one win, two top-five and four top-10 finishes in 12 starts at Martinsville. He won the 2002 Old Dominion 500 from the 36th starting position -- the farthest back a race winner has started at the short track. "For it being the smallest track that we go to, it presents about the biggest challenge all around," said Busch. "It's all about endurance, durability, patience and teamwork all wrapped up in one package."
  • Last week: Busch finished 32nd at Charlotte after a brush with the second-turn wall and subsequent spin on lap 116. "Another mile-and-a-half track and another struggle," said a dejected Busch. "The car was just so loose all night long."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Roy McCauley was suspended for two races and fined $25,000, and Busch was penalized 50 driver points and team owner Roger Penske was docked 50 owner points for the post-qualifying violation on Busch's car last weekend. The right rear shock absorber failed inspection, Busch's qualifying time was nullified and he started the race at the rear of the field.

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    17) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Bowyer finished 22nd in his Nextel Cup debut at Martinsville in the spring. He won the pole and finished second in the Busch Series event at the short track in July. "We've run well at Martinsville in the Busch car and ran really good in the truck as well (finishing seventh)," said Bowyer. "In the Cup race, everyone got bottled up early and we got in a wreck on the third lap."
  • Last week: Bowyer led twice for three laps early in the race at Charlotte. But on lap 116, he got caught up in a wreck that ended his hopes of having a "real good day." Instead, Bowyer had to settle for a 23rd-place finish.
  • Etc.: Bowyer has no victories, three top-five finishes, nine top-10s and a 19.7 average finish in his first year on the Cup circuit.

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    18) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Newman has four top-five and five top-10 finishes in nine starts at Martinsville. He also has won two poles at the short track. "Even though we've struggled on the intermediate tracks this year, we've done well on the short tracks," said Newman. "We always seem to have a good run on the short tracks, so I'm happy that we get one more shot as a short track this season."
  • Last week: A cracked rear-end housing forced Newman to spent 60 laps in the garage area repairing the damage. As a result, Newman finished 27th in the Bank of America 500.
  • Etc.: Newman has only two top-five finishes this season, and he is still looking for his first win in 2006. "With only five races left, we'd really like to have a good top-five finish and earn a win for our team and our sponsors before the year is over," he said.

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    19) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Truex finished 19th in his first Nextel Cup start at Martinsville and believes a better run is on the horizon this weekend. "We're bringing a new car to Martinsville, and I know we'll be competitive," he said. "The Bass Pro guys have been giving me some great cars (in recent weeks), and we're really fired up for the rest of the season."
  • Last week: Truex got caught up in the first-lap melee at Charlotte and, as a result, limped home in 31st place. "I almost made it through the wreck, but the 11 car (Denny Hamlin) came down on me at the last second and we tore up the left front," said Truex. "It's a real shame. We would've had a great race. We were eighth fastest in the final practice."
  • Etc.: Truex said "one of the biggest concerns about racing at Martinsville is the breaks. The track isn't banked in the corners like Bristol, so you really have to get on the brakes when you enter the turns. You'll burn the brakes up in a hurry if you're not careful."

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    20) Scott Riggs, No. 10 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Riggs won the first pole position of his Cup career at Martinsville in April 2005. He scored his first top-10 finish at the short track last spring when he ended up 10th. Riggs believes another top-10 run is in the works for this weekend. "We learned a lot back in the spring," said Riggs.
  • Last week: Riggs won his second consecutive pole position at Charlotte and led four times for 34 laps. But he ran into major handling problems during the last half of the race and finished a disappointing 17th. "Our setup was just temperamental, and we went the wrong way on adjustments midway through the race," said Riggs.
  • Etc.: Team director Rodney Childers is looking forward to the three races at 1.5-mile tracks still left on the schedule. "We feel pretty confident at all the big tracks coming up," said Childers. "We've been pretty good at all of them. We're going to take this car (that Riggs ran at LMS) and do a little work on it and get it better and go to Atlanta and Texas and get one (a victory) there."

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    21) Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Sadler has two top-10 finishes in the last three races run at Martinsville. He believes he will make it three out of four on Sunday. "I have had good cars every week since joining Evernham Motorsports," said Sadler. "I expect us to have another one this weekend."
  • Last week: Sadler said "something let go in the drive train" on lap 163, forcing him to be content with a 35th-place finish in the Bank of America 500. "We struggled with a too tight car, but it was getting better," said Sadler. "I think things were going to work out for us."
  • Etc.: Sadler said team director Josh Brown "has been a lot of fun to work with so far" since joining Evernham Motorsports several months ago. "He's got a great sense of humor. He's very smart. We're building a great relationship. He is a goofball, and he's keeping me relaxed on the radio because of that."

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    22) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: In seven starts at Martinsville, McMurray has recorded five top-10 finishes. He was ninth in the spring race there. "I love going to Martinsville. It's one of my favorite tracks," said McMurray. "It's a challenging track, which is why I enjoy it so much. I like the tracks that most others don't like."
  • Last week: McMurray suffered engine failure at Charlotte as he finished 34th. "They (his team) said Greg (Biffle, his teammate) had broken a valve, and that is sort of what mine felt like," said McMurray. "It just started shaking."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Bob Osborne believes "this should be a good weekend for the Irwin team in Martinsville. We are running the same setup we ran earlier this year when Jamie recorded a great finish (ninth). We are looking for the same results this weekend, if not a few positions better."

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    23) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte has one win at Martinsville as well as five top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. His win came in 2002. Team owner Richard Petty is the all-time winner at the track with 15 victories. "It's a great track for Petty Enterprises (19 wins in all)," said Labonte. "Martinsville is a place where Petty Enterprises knows how to win. I've had some good runs there, too."
  • Last week: Labonte finished fifth at Charlotte to equal his season-high finish. It was his third top-10 finish in the last four races. Labonte has 17 top-10 finishes in 28 starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway. "Our Cheerios Dodge was pretty decent all night," said Labonte. "We had a pretty good car and we got lucky, too."
  • Etc.: Labonte thinks "things are going our way right now. These guys are working hard and seeing good results. That's great for everyone. It's getting us closer to our goals. It's exciting to be a part of this team right now."

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    24) Dale Jarrett, No. 88 Ford, Robert Yates Racing
  • This week: Jarrett won the spring race at Martinsville in 2001. He made his Cup debut at the .525-mile track on April 29, 1984. In 40 starts at the Virginia facility, he has nine top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. "I probably feel more optimistic about our chances for a win at Martinsville than at the intermediate tracks like Charlotte or Atlanta or Texas," said Jarrett. "This is a place where I feel we can run in the top five and perhaps put ourselves in contention for the win with the right set of circumstances."
  • Last week: Jarrett was upset after crashing hard on lap 32 and finishing 41st. "This is a 500-mile race," Jarrett said. "The car wasn't bad; you'll have to ask Reed (Sorenson) why he ran into me. He ran into me on pit road, too, so I guess it was my night for him."
  • Etc.: Jarrett points out that "some of the things that we may be struggling with on the bigger tracks don't really come into play at Martinsville. You still need a decent handling race car, and a good starting spot goes a long way in helping your outcome in the race, especially for pit selection."

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    25) Reed Sorenson, No. 41 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Sorenson was the top rookie in the first Martinsville race, when he finished 12th. "We had a great run at Martinsville in the spring and an even better run in the Busch car in July (when he finished fourth)," said Sorenson. "I really like the track, and we're taking our new short-track car."
  • Last week: Sorenson was hit from behind during the sixth caution flag of the evening and slammed hard into the inside wall. The damage was so severe that he was unable to continue, and he finished 36th in the Bank of America 500. Earlier in the race, Sorenson was part of an accident that sidelined Dale Jarrett. When asked about that incident, Sorenson said, "To be honest with you, I don't know. I know I was trying to pass him, and whether I came up into him or he came down, I'm not sure."
  • Etc.: Sorenson said his goal this weekend is "to finish a race. We've had a tough month and we need a good finish to get the Target team's morale back up and get us pointed in the right direction in the points. There are plenty of races left for us to get back inside of the top 20 and potentially get as high as 17th or 18th."

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    Tagged: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Elliott Sadler, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Casey Mears, Dale Jarrett, Scott Riggs, Kasey Kahne

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