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Qualifying the Chasers: Martinsville

October 27, 2012, Nick Margiasso, NASCAR.com



Qualifying the Chasers: Martinsville
Another quals, another poor run for leader; favorites set themselves up

Brad Keselowski (Qualified 32nd): Brad K. is not going away. The young gun is acting like an old vet out there in the title hunt, scrapping for every position, charging hard but thinking smart and making epic saves -- the key to any championship challenge. At this point, statistics can only tell so much when they don't measure the instinctive hunger inside a championship driver. Keselowski is a perfect example of that. Every week it seems like the same thing: Kes comes to a track that he has a crummy career record at and performs like a true champion. His two Chase wins came at the two tracks in which he had the worst career records at in the postseason. That's where he'll find himself similarly this week. Brad's average finish going into Martinsville will be 13.4. He'll probably best that, but will it be enough thanks to his worst qualifying effort of the season? Can he keep overcoming bad qualifying efforts that might cost him a championship?

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified 1st): Speaking of guys that won't waver in the title hunt ... Here's Jimmie! Except he isn't acting like a true champion, which is Keselowski's case. He IS a true champion -- five times over, if you don't remember. And he is not backing down from this fight, either. He said, earlier this week that "we'll creep into [Keselowski's] head." Well, it doesn't get plainer than that, and JJ is at the track to make his move. He has six wins at Martinsville, has three times won back-to-back races there and has the best average finish of any current Sprint Cup Series driver (5.7). And, he won the pole here ... yup, he's a-comin.'

Pos.DriverSpeedTime
5.D. Hamlin97.38219.445
6.M. Kenseth97.27219.467
7.T. Stewart97.25719.470
8.C. Bowyer97.24719.472
11.J. Gordon96.96819.528
12.M. Truex Jr.96.96419.529
13.K. Harvick96.95919.530
15.K. Kahne96.86919.548
20.D. Earnhardt Jr.96.71619.579
30.G. Biffle96.11219.702
32.B. Keselowski96.01519.722

Denny Hamlin (Qualified 5th): And then there was a third. Hamlin is everyone's dark horse Chase contender, especially with how he's done on the remaining tracks. Martinsville is his real bride, though, as his average finish (6.4) is just below Johnson's stellar mark. He has, like JJ, won three straight at the bullring at one juncture (2009-2010) and has just ONE FINISH LOWER THAN SIXTH SINCE 2006. With numbers like that, his horse is lightening up a lot.

Clint Bowyer (Qualified 8th): It's amazing, in the talk of the big Chase underdog, how often Clint is left out of the discussion. He is just five points behind Denny, has won as many races in the Chase and over the last five Chase races is just one behind him in average finish (7.6 to 8.6). If it wasn't for Bowyer's crazy Talladega slip-up (23rd), he might be the one in third in the standings. Now is the time to really step up, though. At Martinsville, his average finish is eight points lower than Hamlin's and he's finished in the top 10 in six of 13 tries there. He'll have to beat the leaders in their own backyard to become the man.

Kasey Kahne (Qualified 15th): At one point, this gent looked like the real pick to click in the Chase dark horse battle. Now? He still hasn't won a Chase race, and has as many top-10 finishes as not-top-10s in his last four races. That's not even the worst part. Kahne is an ugly 21.7 average finish at Martinsville and two DNFs in his last three starts there. Honestly, he could end up quite a few spots down the standings after this weekend.

Martin Truex Jr. (Qualified 12th): In all the Kansas kerfuffle, something of note got lost in the wake -- Truex's best finish in seven months since, well, last time around at Kansas. That says something. It says: if you haven't won in a LONG time, and just tied your best finish of the season, and it was a second, and it was at the same track as the other best finish, and you don't head back to that track ... you are not going to get the win you'll need to stay relevant in the 2012 Chase.

Tony Stewart (Qualified 7th): It's been a long time since that 2011 championship -- getting longer every race. He won this Chase race last year at Martinsville. Once again, things that happened a long time ago.

Jeff Gordon (Qualified 11th): He's moved all around the standings this whole season. With this guy's resume, it's always possible to move back up in the points since he's been pretty good at one time or another everywhere the circuit goes. But back up into contention? Nope. Still, Gordon has the most wins of any active driver at Martinsville, although it's been seven years since he went back-to-back for the 2005 sweep. He's not finished outside the top five but twice since 2004, so The Rainbow Warrior will definitely be a factor this weekend.

Matt Kenseth (Qualified 6th): Wow, where did this come from? Just when Kenseth was so buried in the Chase that a win didn't even pull him out of last place, he goes out two weeks later and crushes another one. Still, it's thanks to a whole lot of wrecked cars that Kenseth has two wins in the last three. Can he pull another rabbit out of his hat? Or at least throw it out his window and wreck the other drivers trying to beat him? He may have to at Martinsville, where Kenseth has finished inside the top 15 just twice since 2009.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified 13th): The only other Chaser in the field besides Truex without a win and, honestly, does anyone even remember his close calls? Yeah, nope. Thanks for playing, Kev.

Greg Biffle (Qualified 30th): The Biff dropped a whopping five spots in the standings after his Kansas debacle, ending up 27th. And it's not going to get any better, as Biffle heads to arguably his worst track on the circuit. Martinsville is the only track where he hasn't posted a single top five, and Greg's 10th-place in 2010 is his best finish at the bullring in a five-year span. Think he'll turn it around? Check his qualifying effort.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified 20th): Well, he's back, and right on time. Junior's just happy to be in a car again, but he'll get in one at a Martinsville track that he has done well at. No wins there, but hasn't finished outside the top seven since 2010. He's unlucky to not have won at least once in his early years at the track, when he finished inside the top three four straight trips from 2002-2004.

Story includes statistics from © Racing Resources and Services, Statistics by © Racing Recall®

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.