News & Media

Qualifying the Chasers: Martinsville

October 29, 2011, Bill Kimm,

Rain washes out qualiyfing, giving RFR duo of Edwards, Kenseth the front row

Carl Edwards (Qualified first) -- Edwards finished 11th at Talladega, his first finish outside the top 10 in the Chase. But don't feel bad for Edwards, he increased his points lead to 14, the largest in the Chase this season. Edwards' average finish in the Chase is 5.6, which is good because he isn't all that great at Martinsville. Edwards has just one top-five and four top-10s in 14 Martinsville starts. His average finish of 16.9 is 11th among Chasers, but he finished eighth in both races in 2010 and led for the first time in the spring race.

Matt Kenseth (Qualified second) -- Talladega snapped a four-race streak of top-sixes for Kenseth, and the former Cup champ comes to a Martinsville track where he has been ... well, average. Kenseth has two top-fives and seven top-10s in 23 starts but his average finish of 15.8 shows that Kenseth keeps his car in the top 20. In the seven Chase races at Martinsville, Kenseth has finished no worse than 16th with a fifth in 2007, an eighth in 2008 and an average finish of 11.5 in those races. Kenseth finished sixth in the spring, giving the No. 17 team hope of a big points day on Sunday.

Brad Keselowski (Qualified third) -- A fourth-place finish at Talladega vaulted Keselowski into the championship discussion and he should remain there after 500 laps at the Martinsville paperclip. Keselowski has just three starts at Martinsville with finishes of 12th, 10th and 19th. Keselowski hasn't led a lap at Martinsville, but his 13.6 average finish is fifth among Chasers. Plus, he's scored the ninth-most points in the three Martinsville races he's competed.

Tony Stewart (Qualified fourth) -- Stewart's seventh at Talladega moved the two-time Cup champ to within 19 points of the points leader, giving him hope in the final four races. Stewart has been very successful at Martinsville, but it came before the new car. Stewart has two wins, eight top-fives and 13 top-10s in 25 starts, but since 2007, he hasn't been that impressive. Of his 1,194 laps led, only 12 have come later than '07. In the nine races since '07, Stewart has just two top-fives and four finishes of 24th or worse. He is coming off a 34th in April, his worst finish since 2001.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified fifth) -- Harvick's crash at Talladega but him in a huge hole, but all is not lost for the No. 29. Recent history at Martinsville shows Harvick might have figured the Paperclip out. Harvick has just two top-fives and nine top-10s at Martinsville, but those two top-fives have come in his past two starts. He led 97 laps and finished third in last year's Chase race and in April, he led when it mattered most and grabbed his first victory at the track. In Chase races at Martinsville, Harvick has been fantastic. He has six top-10s in seven Chase races with a worst finish of 15th and an average finish of 8.8.

Kyle Busch (Qualified sixth) -- Busch had a rough day at Talladega and that dropped him to 40 points behind the points leader. If Busch is going to make a run at the title, it has to start at Martinsville, and that is just fine for him. Busch has been awesome in his past four starts at the .526-mile track, with three finishes of fourth or better. In 13 starts, Busch has six top-fives -- that's nearly 50 percent. The flip side of that is the other seven finishes are ninth, 18th and five of 24th or worse.

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified seventh) -- Johnson is 50 points out of the lead but comes to one of his best tracks on the Cup Series schedule. The five-time champion is one of the best at Martinsville with six victories, 13 top-fives and 17 top-10s at Martinsville in 19 starts. Take away his 35th in his first start at the track in 2002, and his worst finish is 11th. His dominance has taken a hit recently, though. That 11th-place finish came in this April and in two of the past three races, he hasn't led a lap. That being said, it's desperation time for the No. 48 and with an average finish of 5.6 at Martinsville, it should be a good points day.

Kurt Busch (Qualified eighth) -- Busch's title hopes took a major hit, literally, at Talladega and he comes to a track in Martinsville that hasn't been too kind. Busch has just one victory, a fifth and a sixth in 22 starts at Martinsville -- the rest are all outside the top 10. You have to go back to 2005 to find Busch's last top 10 at Martinsville and since joining Penske, it's been nothing but a struggle. Busch's best finish in Penske equipment at the Paperclip is 11th (2006) and his average finish is 21.8. There is a hint of good news. Busch has led at least 19 laps on seven occasions at Martinsville and has just one DNF.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified ninth) -- Earnhardt has just one top-10 in the six Chase races, but that could change at Martinsville. Earnhardt's average finish of 13.3 is fourth among Chasers and while Earnhardt hasn't won at Martinsville, he has nine top-fives and 12 top-10s in 23 starts. Since joining Hendrick, Earnhardt has found some of the success he had in the early 2000s. In seven races in the No. 88, Earnhardt has two runner-up finishes and three more top-10s. In his past two starts at Martinsville, Earnhardt finished seventh and second and led 107 laps.

Jeff Gordon (Qualified 10th) -- With his title hopes all but erased after a 27th-place finish at Talladega, Gordon can now focus solely on wins and there is no one better than that than Gordon at Martinsville. Gordon leads all active drivers in wins (seven), top-fives (24), top-10s (30) and laps led (2,981). Since 2005, Gordon has finished in the top five in 12 of the 13 races -- that's remarkable. The one blemish came in the Chase race last year, where Gordon finished two laps down in 20th. In his past 10 starts, Gordon has led at least 36 laps and in three of those, has held the point for more than 100.

Denny Hamlin (Qualified 11th) -- Hamlin is quickly adding his name to Martinsville experts in the Cup Series. In 12 starts, Hamlin has four wins, eight top-fives and 10 top-10s. His average finish of 6.6 is second to Johnson and he's already eclipsed 1,000 laps led. Hamlin has just two hiccups at the .526-mile track -- a 37th in 2006 and a 12th in this year's spring race. That 12th-place run snapped a three-race win streak and a six-race top-five streak at Martinsville. Hamlin has won the past two Chase races at Martinsville and hasn't finished worse than eighth in the fall.

Ryan Newman (Qualified 12th) -- After starting the Chase so well, Newman has gone south quick. He may have hit the bottom at Talladega, where he finished 38th after a rough race. Newman heads to Martinsville, where he has had some hits, as well as so misses, but recently has shown some prowess around the Paperclip. Newman is winless in 19 starts, but has six top-fives and nine top-10s. More importantly, since moving to Stewart-Haas, Newman has been pretty strong, at least early on. His first three starts were finishes of sixth, seventh and fourth. But his past two races were finishes of 30th and 20th, both off the lead lap. Newman has an average finish of 14.6 and has led laps seven starts, including three of his past four.