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Post-Martinsville driver reports

April 08, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Kahne caps Hendrick Motorsports effort, enters top five

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 231 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Johnson proved once again that he is the Martinsville maestro, hitting all the right notes for his eighth career victory at the .526-mile short track. Starting from the pole, Johnson led 346 of 500 laps -- including stretches of 119 and 138 laps, respectively -- to vault back to the top of the points standings.
Next week: In 19 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Johnson has two wins, nine top-fives, 14 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Texas, Johnson ranks third out of 48 drivers with an average place of 11.1.
Last year: Last year was almost as good as it gets for Johnson at Texas. The No. 48, after leading 156 laps -- including a stretch of 103 late -- finished second to Greg Biffle in the Samsung Mobile 500. When the Cup Series returned in the fall, Johnson won. All told, Five-Time has five top-10 finishes in the past six races at the track.

What he said:
“We had a great weekend, and I know that the stats clearly show that, but it (was) probably the most calm, relaxed, thought‑out weekend that we've had as the 48, and mature weekend we've had. We really fell back on our experience and stayed committed to that.”

2. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is second in the standings with 225 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Keselowski rallied from a pit-road miscue to finish sixth and keep his spot at second in the standings. The No. 2 gained one spot following a restart with eight laps to go, and nearly beat fifth-place Kyle Busch to the start/finish line on the final lap in a true photo finish.
Next week: In nine career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Keselowski has one top-five and one top-10. In the past eight years at Texas, Keselowski ranks 23rd out of 48 drivers with an average place of 21.0.
Last year: It was a banner 2012 season for Keselowski, but this race was one to forget. Keselowski showed strong speed during practice and qualifying, and was in sixth place through 140 of 334 laps. A mechanical issue, though, sent the No. 2 to the garage, and although Keselowski would come back and finish the race, he finished 36th, the last car running.
What he said: “Sixth is good, but it’s just not great. We’ve been strong enough to be proud of what we’ve done, and I’m proud of where we are right here today, but the 48 car is on another level. His car is so much better than everybody else that he just plays with everybody the whole race just to make it look good.”

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt is third in the standings with 219 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Earnhardt had his worst showing of the year. He started the season with five consecutive top-10s, but finished 24th at Martinsville. Making matters worse -- Earnhardt finished two laps down, and his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates all finished in the top five.
Next week: In 21 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Earnhardt has one win, three top-fives, 12 top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Texas, Earnhardt ranks fourth out of 48 drivers with an average place of 11.5.
Last year: Earnhardt earned his third consecutive top-10 finish in the spring race at Texas Motor Speedway, coming in at 10th. After starting 16th, he was near the top five midway through the race, but his car became too tight to challenge drivers Carl Edwards (eighth) and Kevin Harvick (ninth), who were both conserving fuel.
What he said: “At the start of the race we had a good car. We made a lot of adjustments to change that, though. It was a bad car at the end of the race.”

4. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is fourth in the standings with 203 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Busch was at his short-track best, leading 56 laps -- third most of the afternoon -- and beating Brad Keselowski to the start/finish line to finish fifth. It’s Busch’s fourth top-five of the year.
Next week: In 15 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch has five top-fives and six top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Busch ranks fifth out of 48 drivers with an average place of 11.8.
Last year: A loose car relegated Busch to starting 17th in the Samsung Mobile 500, and the No. 18 Toyota found it more difficult than usual to gain ground. Long stretches of green-flag racing made pit stops more important than usual, and Busch got some good ones and went on to finish 11th.
What he said: “We keep finishing top-five here all of the time, but it’d sure be nice to figure out some sort of secret that could get us into Victory Lane here.”

5. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is fifth in the standings with 199 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Kahne fell to 24th place through 25 laps, but recovered for his second consecutive top-five at Martinsville. Kahne ran as high as second place and finished fourth, only his third top-five in 19 starts at the track.
Next week: In 17 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Kahne has one win, four top-fives, five top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Texas, Kahne ranks 16th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 15.6.

Last year:
For the sixth time in seven races, Kahne was fast in practice and qualified well, starting the Samsung Mobile 500 from the fifth position. But for the first time in 2012, Kahne wasn’t caught up in a wreck or suffer some other terrible fate. After immense struggles to start the season, Kahne finished seventh at Texas. This race served as the jolt Kahne so badly needed -- it was the first of seven consecutive top-10s.

6. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is sixth in the standings with 199 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Biffle steadily drove through the field over the final 150 laps, turning an OK day into a pretty good one. The No. 16 Ford finished ninth after starting 22nd and sitting in 19th place through 350 laps. It was Biffle’s second-best finish at Martinsville (he finished seventh in a 2007 race). It’s also Biffle’s third top-10 of the year, and the veteran driver has finished every race to remain firmly in the top 10 of the points standings.
Next week: In 18 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Biffle has two wins, seven top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole. He is the defending race champion. In the past eight years at Texas, Biffle ranks seventh out of 48 drivers with an average place of 12.2.
Last year: After a few close calls and missed opportunities over the past several races, Biffle broke his 49-race winless streak in the 2012 Samsung Mobile 500. The No. 16 Ford started third and never dropped out of the top five. Biffle had to pass Jimmie Johnson during an extended green-flag stretch -- there were only two cautions in last year’s race -- and he did so with 31 laps remaining, then held off the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion for the remainder of the race.
What he said:
“We were gonna be better than (ninth place), but we’re just not living right. If you look at all of the restarts, we started on the bottom only twice. That’s where all of our track position went. ”

7. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is seventh in the standings with 193 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Edwards finished 15th after starting ninth. With his past history at Martinsville less than stellar, it wasn’t a bad day for the No. 99 Ford.
Next week: In 16 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Edwards has three wins, five top-fives and seven top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Edwards ranks sixth out of 48 drivers with an average place of 11.9.
Last year: Edwards drives well at Texas, and the driver of the No. 99 Ford has long professed his appreciation for the track. Last year may have been his best showing. A loose lug nut caused Edwards to pit an extra time, putting him in 30th place through 100 laps. Battling a wicked wind the rest of the way, Edwards made up 22 spots and finished eighth while driving in fuel conservation made in the final laps.

8. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is eighth in the standings with 179 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Bowyer challenged Hendrick Motorsports drivers -- three of ‘em, all told -- for position all day. In the end, the No. 15 Toyota rebounded from a dreadful showing at Fontana to finish second Sunday. Bowyer ran inside the top 10 for the final 175 (of 500) laps, finishing behind only Jimmie Johnson and ahead of third-place Jeff Gordon and fourth-place Kasey Kahne. It was an impressive showing, especially considering that Bowyer was involved in a nine-car wreck earlier. The finish allowed Bowyer, who fell 10 spots in the standings last week, to jump six spots.
Next week: In 14 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Bowyer has two top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Bowyer ranks ninth out of 48 drivers with an average place of 12.8.
Last year: Perhaps last year’s finish was simply an aberration for Bowyer, who has enjoyed moderate success at the 1.5-mile track. The No. 15 Toyota started 18th and struggled last year, finishing 17th -- but it’s the only time Bowyer has been out of the top 10 at Texas in the past five races.
What he said: “(Crew chief) Brian Pattie and everybody on this 15 car did a good job bringing a fast car. It’s just disappointing -- she was just tore up too bad. … Just wish I’d had that clock.”

9. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Menard is ninth in the standings with 179 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Menard finished 19th, his worst outing of the year and the first time he’s finished out of the top 10 since the second race of the season. That’s the bad news. The good news is the driver of the No. 27 Chevrolet remains in the top 10 through six races.
Next week: In 11 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Menard’s best finish is 12th in 2012. In the past eight years at Texas, Menard ranks 25th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 21.5.
Last year: One year after his lone top-five finish at Texas, Menard was disappointed following his 2012 showing. Fighting a loose No. 27 Chevrolet, Menard and his pit crew couldn’t find the perfect blend of chassis and air pressure adjustments. He finished 18th after qualifying 11th.
What he said: “We struggled with handling issues for the majority of the day and never seemed to hit on the right setup. We'll keep our heads up and hope for a better result in Texas next weekend.”

10. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is 10th in the standings with 172 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Kenseth steered his No. 20 Toyota to a 14th-place finish. Kenseth, though, led 96 laps at Martinsville, a track that has troubled him in the past and continued a season-long trend of having a strong car.
Next week: In 26 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Kenseth has three top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Kenseth ranks first out of 48 drivers with an average place of 9.4.
Last year: The lack of cautions was just fine with Kenseth, who had one of the fastest cars of the evening. Driving the No. 17 for Roush Fenway Racing at the time, Kenseth was in the top five all day, finishing fifth and leading 15 laps. Kenseth’s finish continued a remarkable string of success at Texas, giving him his fourth consecutive top-five, a streak he extended in the fall by finishing fourth.
What he said: “We ran really great -- that’s the best we ever ran at Martinsville and the best car I’ve ever had here by far. That part was all good. We just didn’t get the finish, which is disappointing -- we’ve got to start getting some finishes.”

11. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford

Where he stands: Logano is 11th in the standings with 167 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Logano steadily lost ground and was disappointed following a 23rd-place finish. The No. 22 Ford had posted strong practice times and qualified fourth, but finished one lap down following two drama-filled weeks after disputes with both Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart.
Next week: In eight career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Logano has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Logano ranks 28th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 22.9.
Last year: Like so many other drivers, Logano was affected by the lack of caution flags – at one point, drivers ticked off 234 consecutive green-flag laps. Logano, who qualified 14th, couldn’t get the long pit stops he needed to tune his car. The multiple shorter stops eventually got his then-No. 20 in good shape and had Logano running lap times as fast as the leaders, but he needed a late restart to have a shot of placing in the top 10. When that didn’t happen, Logano settled for 19th place.
What he said: “Rough day, lost the handle at the end of the race. Going to try to figure it out (Monday).”

12. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Gordon is 12th in the standings with 164 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Gordon steered the No. 24 Chevrolet to a third-place finish. It allowed Gordon to jump six spots up the standings and was a bit of welcome good news. Gordon previously ran well at Bristol, and was leading late when he blew a tire. And in last year’s Martinsville spring race, Gordon was in the lead but was wrecked on a late restart.
Next week: In 40 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Gordon has seven wins, 25 top-fives, 32 top-10s and seven poles. In the past eight years at Texas, Gordon ranks 10th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 13.7.
Last year: Gordon didn’t need many yellow flags to pick his way through the field. The veteran steered his car to a fourth-place finish after starting 34th.
What he said: “I made a bonehead move and overshot my pit stall and cost us a bunch of positions, (so) … I think third was a great finish for us, and happy to bring home third. We needed the points.”

13. Jamie McMurray (No. 1)

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: McMurray is 13th in the standings with 162 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, McMurray was in the hunt for his first top-five of the season -- and first since 2011. The No. 1 Chevrolet was in the top 10 for the final 250 laps and finished seventh, giving McMurray two top-10s in his past three races.
Next week: In 23 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, McMurray has one win, three top-fives and 10 top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, McMurray ranks 21st out of 48 drivers with an average place of 19.4.
Last year: McMurray qualified ninth for the Texas race and finished 14th, his best showing at the track since 2008.
What he said: “I think the track, even though you couldn’t see rubber, the track got tighter and tighter as the race went on. We adjusted for it, but just didn’t have enough speed there at the end. Made a good pit call at the end and got a couple of extra spots. That was a really good day for us.”

14. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is 14th in the standings with 161 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Harvick appeared to be on his way to claiming just his second top-10 of the season, or possibly even his first top-five. As has been the case throughout the season, though, things didn’t go Harvick’s way. He lost seven spots on the final 25 laps, finishing 13th. His frustrations boiled over afterward when he spun out Brian Vickers after the checkered flag on the cool-down lap.
Next week: In 23 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Harvick has one win, three top-fives and 10 top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Harvick ranks 15th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 15.3.
Last year: Harvick got back on track at Texas with two ninth-place finishes in 2011. Out of the past seven Sprint Cup races at the track, Harvick has five top-10s.
What he said: “The Budweiser team had a solid run, but it came down to pit strategy at the end, and it didn't work in our favor. Next weekend is another race.”

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Stenhouse Jr. is 15th in the standings with 158 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Stenhouse showed how difficult it is to do well at Martinsville as a rookie. Although the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate is in the midst of a strong season, he was perplexed at the .526-mile paper-clip shaped track. Stenhouse finished 25th and two laps down, although he was three laps down late.
Next week: Stenhouse has no starts at Texas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
What he said: “Learned a lot this weekend for the next time here. The guys worked hard.”

16. Aric Almirola (No. 43)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Almirola is 16th in the standings with 149 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Almirola finished 20th, which has to be considered a gain for the day -- the No. 43 Ford started 34th. On the other hand, Almirola posted two top-10s at the track last season. Either way, he climbed one spot in the standings.
Next week: In eight career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Almirola has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Almirola ranks 32nd out of 48 drivers with an average place of 25.5.
Last year: Almirola was consistent, starting 23rd and finishing 22nd.
What he said: “We tried hard all weekend. We just couldn’t get the car to cooperate. We hit on a few things in practice and the race but didn’t get the finish we were looking for. Thankfully, we still moved up in points.”

17. Casey Mears (No. 13)

Germain Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Mears is 17th in the standings with 146 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Mears fought his way to a 16th-place finish after starting 41st. It appears that things are coming together for Mears, who had finished 15th in the previous two races. He’s in the top 20 in the standings for the first time this year.
Next week: In 17 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Mears has two top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Mears ranks 24th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 21.2.
Last year: Mears has struggled to break through at Texas, and that was again the case last season. He finished 25th in the spring race and has seven consecutive finishes between 21-26.
What he said: “We had a really good car and I felt like we could have been somewhere between 10th and 12th. It was just some of the decisions and how it turned out that put us back where we were, but we had a little bit of trouble on pit road with losing spots.”

18. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Hamlin is 18th in the standings with 145 points.
Last week: Hamlin missed the STP Gas Booster 500 due to an injury, and he could miss the next four races as well. Falling eight spots in the standings gives a tangible idea of just how steep Hamlin’s climb back up the standings will be whenever he returns. Still, the driver watched Mark Martin steer his No. 11 car and said he learned a lot from his spot atop the pit box.
Next week: In 15 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Hamlin has four wins, nine top-fives, 12 top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Texas, Hamlin ranks eighth out of 48 drivers with an average place of 12.7. Brian Vickers will start in the No. 11 this week.
Last year: Hamlin ran just outside the top 10 all day, starting 13th and finishing 12th. He is not on the entry list for this year’s race due to injury.
What he said: “I want to do whatever it takes to get back in the car as soon as possible, and really, rest is the only thing that can really do that.”

19. Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is 19th in the standings with 144 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Kurt Busch had an ill-handling car as the race wore on and was around 30th place with 150 laps to go. Things got worse when the No. 78 hit the wall in Turn 1 and quickly became ablaze following a brake malfunction; Busch emerged from the car unscathed, and he remains in the top 20 despite his 37th-place day.
Next week: In 25 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch has one win, two top-fives, four top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Texas, Busch ranks 12th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 14.2.
Last year: Busch was one of the few drivers at Texas to make significant progress throughout the race. Starting 27th, Busch was up to 19th place by Lap 20 and finished 13th.
What he said: “Something failed with the brakes. We’ve just been battling from behind all year, and we’ll keep battling. I’m not giving up.”

20. Marcos Ambrose (No. 9)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Ambrose is 20th in the standings with 107 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Ambrose had the best Martinsville finish of his career, piloting the No. 9 Ford to an eighth-place finish. Although he started second, it was a difficult slog for Ambrose, who was involved in an 11-car incident on Lap 180. Near 20th place at the time, Ambrose fought back and snuck into the top 10 in the waning laps.
Next week: In eight career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Ambrose’s best finish is 11th in 2010. In the past eight years at Texas, Ambrose ranks 13th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 14.4.
Last year: Ambrose had his first top-10 at Texas in sight after qualifying seventh, but he finished 20th.
What he said: “It was a hard day, but we’ve got to be pleased with the weekend. We qualified on the front row and finished in the top 10, so for us that’s a win. It’s something to build on and we’ll go to next week with a bit more confidence and get our team really rolling.”

Five in the rearview mirror …

Mark Martin (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Martin is 21st in the standings with 136 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Martin had a day perhaps unlike any other in his lengthy NASCAR career. The veteran driver wasn’t even scheduled to drive at Martinsville, but an injury to Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin put the 54-year-old in Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota. Although Martin at first struggled to get accustomed to the setup, he bumped and banged his way to a 10th-place finish.
Next week: In 24 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Martin has one win, eight top-fives and 13 top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Martin ranks 11th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 14.0.

Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Stewart is 22nd in the standings with 135 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Stewart finished 17th but didn’t make any ground in the standings. The driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet has finished outside the top 10 for four consecutive races.
This week: In 28 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Stewart has three wins, nine top-fives, 15 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Texas, Stewart ranks second out of 48 drivers with an average place of 10.0.

Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Newman is 23rd in the standings with 134 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, a race Newman won last year, Newman clearly didn’t have the same success. The driver finished 31st, eight laps back.
Next week: In 22 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Newman has one win, seven top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Texas, Newman ranks 22nd out of 48 drivers with an average place of 22.0.

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Truex Jr. is 25th in the standings with 126 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Truex was involved in a nine-car incident on Lap 180 and suffered the brunt of the damage. He had to take his dented No. 56 Toyota in for adjustments and finished 40th, logging 385 laps. An entrant into the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Truex tumbled out of the top 20 with that result.
Next week: In 14 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Truex Jr. has two top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Texas, Truex ranks 14th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 14.6.

Danica Patrick (No. 10)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where she stands: Patrick is 26th in the standings with 119 points.
Last week: In the STP Gas Booster 500, Patrick escaped the Martinsville hex that plagues most rookies and finished with an impressive 12th-place showing. The driver did it the hard way, too, after starting 32nd. Patrick had to bump past boss Tony Stewart and tangle with Brian Vickers to keep her standing.
Next week: In one career start at Texas Motor Speedway, Patrick finished 24th. In the past eight years at Texas, Patrick ranks 30th out of 48 drivers with an average place of 24.0.

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