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Martinsville race is Johnson's to lose

April 07, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Martinsville race is Johnson's to lose
Johnson's average Martinsville finish is head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd in NASCAR's premier series

Read more: Schedule | Lineup | Drivers discuss feuds

MARTINSVILE, Va. -- His car was fast right off the truck.

And it hasn’t shown any signs of slowing.

It’s a familiar feeling for Jimmie Johnson, seven times a winner at Martinsville Speedway in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

“Definitely looking forward to competing for No. 8,” Johnson said April 5, shortly after earning the pole position for today’s STP Gas Booster 500 with a track qualifying record speed of 98.400 mph.

“We had a great race here in the fall and I’m expecting good things to happen once again.”

"...I'm expecting good things to happen once again."

-- Jimmie Johnson, on Sunday's STP Gas Booster 500

The Hendrick Motorsports driver won from the pole here last October, and is nearly always in contention. While that win snapped a string of six winless starts at the track, Johnson still managed to finish 12th or better between his victories. His average finishing position in 22 career starts on the difficult half-mile track is an eye-popping 5.5.

Only Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin also sport single-digit average finishing positions, and both trail Johnson’s gaudy mark.

Johnson isn’t certain of why he’s run so well at Martinsville; he only knows that he’s been able to build on that initial success.

“Regardless of car, rules package, aero implications, there is something about this track that -- it might change a small percentage of what goes on in the car, but the majority of why you are successful here sticks with you,” he said.

“That is a nice thing to have in your back pocket each time you come here once you figure out the track.” 

Marcos Ambrose (Richard Petty Motorsports) will start alongside Johnson in the series’ sixth race, while Brian Vickers (Michael Waltrip Racing), Joey Logano (Penske Racing) and Kasey Kahne (Hendrick) complete the top five.

A master on the circuit’s road courses, Ambrose continues to search for that first oval win. His track record at Martinsville doesn’t bode well (he has no top-10 finishes in eight career starts), but Ambrose chooses to focus on the positive.

We’re a great team,” he said. “We’ve got all the ingredients. We proved (in qualifying) that if we get our stuff right we can do it. We’ve just got to get some momentum and get some confidence back.

“Our little team is a tough team, but we’ve been knocked around pretty good. It’s like we’ve gone nine rounds with Mike Tyson, but we’re coming back strong here and we won’t quit.”

Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 17th while defending series champion Brad Keselowski will line up seventh. Both are still seeking their first Martinsville victory.

Note: Five drivers –- Johnson, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Kahne and Kyle Busch -– have won the series’ first five races. The series hasn’t opened the season with six different winners since 2003.

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