NASCAR Martinsville Speedway: Tony Stewart Makes Late Pass To Beat Jimmie Johnson

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Carl Edwards Earns Martinsville Top-10 To Retain NASCAR Points Lead

Carl Edwards had one of those days where championships are made.

Edwards, who was in 23rd place and one lap down with 100 laps remaining in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, mounted an unlikely rally to finish ninth and retain the Chase points lead.

Making something out of nothing has been a hallmark of Jimmie Johnson's championship run, and Edwards seemed to do exactly the same thing at Martinsville.

"That's just a gift to finish ninth and to have the day we had," Edwards said. "... We did not deserve to finish ninth."

Edwards, who counts Martinsville as one of his worst tracks, called his comeback "unreal." As he drove around the half-mile track down one lap, the Missouri native said he used the St. Louis Cardinals' World Series victory as motivation to not give up.

But as the day wore on, he began to accept that a poor finish was inevitable.

"I became all right with the fact we were going to finish 20th or 25th," he said. "I was already thinking about Texas (next week), everything we were going to do."

Thanks to the free pass rule and multiple cautions, though, Edwards kept picking off positions and ultimately salvaged a good day.

Of course, the race could have been a disaster for Edwards' Chase hopes had NASCAR followed through on a threat to black flag the Roush Fenway Racing driver late in the race.

NASCAR had told Edwards to pass Jeff Burton, so Edwards followed those instructions just as the green flag waved and drove around the No. 31 car.

But it appeared Edwards was jumping the restart, and NASCAR announced it was issuing a penalty. The No. 99 team protested, though, saying Edwards was simply following instructions.

"Whether or not there was a communication error, I appreciate NASCAR looking at it and realizing they told me to do what they were black-flagging me for," he said. "Not very often they rescind the black flag like that."

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Kevin Harvick Stays Out Of Trouble At Martinsville, Keeps 2011 NASCAR Chase Hopes Alive

Kevin Harvick may have won the spring race at Martinsville, but the Richard Childress Racing driver stayed relatively quiet Sunday afternoon and ended the day with a solid fourth-place finish

Surviving the hard-fought battle, Harvick gained ground on the championship lead, moving within 21 points of Carl Edwards to third in the Chase standings

"It was definitely a battle; everybody was driving hard," he said. "That is what you are supposed to do here at Martinsville. I know the guys did a good job making the cars better and we got good track position."

Harvick pointed out it was difficult to make up ground restarting in the outside lane, thanking teammate Jeff Burton for letting him to the bottom on the final restart.

"(Tony Stewart) was really the only one that could make any ground on the restarts and that is what won him the race," he said.

Crew chief Gil Martin called the team's effort a "pretty good day," but was looking for longer green flag runs at the end of the race. Martin said they did not do a good enough job keeping up with the changing track conditions, as the car tightened up too much late in the race. 

"We weren't very good on the very short runs," he said. "If we would have had 10 or 12 straight laps right there, we could have had a couple of more spots. We were as good as the 14 (Stewart) on those runs, the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) were a little better.  All in all, coming out of here fourth, I'll take that right now."

Sitting 21 points out of the Chase lead with three races left in the championship, Martin is "very positive" about the No. 29 team's chances to climb back into the title hunt.

"The next three races are good tracks for (Kevin)," he said. "What do you do? Just play it out and see what happens, that's all you can do."

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NASCAR At Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson Displeased With Brian Vickers' Late Spin

Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers are good buddies, and a little disagreement at Martinsville Speedway won't change that.

But Johnson certainly wasn't happy with Vickers' late attempt at retaliation on Matt Kenseth, which resulted in a caution and ultimately cost Johnson a win.

Vickers was involved in a whopping five cautions during Sunday's race, and the last one was a self-inflicted spin with seven laps to go. The Red Bull Racing driver had tried to wreck Kenseth, but missed and spun himself out instead.

Johnson didn't appreciate the timing and directed some comments toward his Vickers.

"I mean, I certainly understand that if you're unfairly wrecked, regardless of who that person is, there's a chance retaliation is going to happen," Johnson said. "After a fourth, fifth time with the same car in the crash, you start thinking about maybe you're the problem. Something is going on – you're having a bad day.

"You need to stop crashing for whatever reason."

Johnson, who would have won the race had a caution not come out, said each driver has decisions to make on how they want to handle payback. And in Vickers' case, he said, "I don't agree with the way things were handled at the end."

Of course, that doesn't mean Vickers' spin was bad for everyone.

"Tony Stewart is sitting in Victory Lane smiling," Johnson said, "and he's real happy it turned out that way."

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NASCAR At Martinsville: Brad Keselowski Rally Ruined By Late Race Spin

Brad Keselowski appeared to be on a championship run late in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Struggling for much of the race and running in the back of the pack, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe continually worked on the car, gaining track position as the closing laps approached. 

When a string of late-race restarts bunched up the field, the intensity at the front of the field ratcheted up a notch as drivers fought for every position. On the final restart of the day, Keselowski was spun when Dale Earnhardt Jr. got together with Denny Hamlin, who made contact in the left rear of Keselowski's car. 

With NASCAR not opting to throw the caution for his spin, Keselowski dropped to 17th when the checkered flag fell.

After what looked like a solid recovery and opportunity to gain on the championship, Keselowski fell one spot in the Chase standings, 27 points behind Carl Edwards. 

"That's just this style of racing," Keselowski said. "You can't control your own fate. The car came to us, the track came to us. They guys had a good plan. Our Miller Lite Dodge was a top-10 car. We came up a few laps short."

Crew chief Paul Wolfe admitted Sunday's race was "a lot of hard work" and the "car wasn't what it needed to be" in the opening stages of the race.

Using air pressure and track bar adjustments, Wolfe said it was just small things throughout the entire course of the day that turned the No. 2 team's day around. 

"We worked hard on it and finally found ourselves back in the front where we thought we should be," he said. "Really, the second half of the race we were right up there as a top-five car, top-10 at worst. It's just so hard on these restarts when you get lined up on the outside. He did a good job on that last restart and it looked like we were going to be good, and the 88 (Earnhardt Jr.) got into the 11 (Hamlin). Just a chain reaction and they got into us.

"Just frustrating," Wolfe added. "This was a day we really worked our butts off and we made progress. We were doing what we needed to do to gain points, and then it all went away."

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NASCAR Point Standings After Martinsville: Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart In Tight Battle For 2011 Chase Lead

Midway through Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway, it would have been tough to envision Carl Edwards leaving the Virginia short track with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead.

After all, Edwards was the lowest-running Chase car at the time and Matt Kenseth (second in points entering the race) was fifth.

In fact, it seemed all of Edwards' foes were going to capitalize on his off-day.

But by the end, things changed. Edwards rallied for an improbable top-10 finish, Kenseth wrecked and Brad Keselowski (third in points after Talladega) had a late spin that put a huge dent in his title hopes.

Now, with three races to go, Edwards and Martinsville winner Tony Stewart seem locked in a two-man battle for the title. Kevin Harvick and Keselowski still lurk, though, in case the top two drivers slip up.

Check out the 2011 Chase standings after seven races:

  1. Carl Edwards
  2. Tony Stewart -8
  3. Kevin Harvick -21
  4. Brad Keselowski -27
  5. Matt Kenseth -36
  6. Jimmie Johnson -43
  7. Kyle Busch -57
  8. Kurt Busch -58
  9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -73
  10. Jeff Gordon -76
  11. Denny Hamlin -80
  12. Ryan Newman -89

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Matt Kenseth Loses Ground In NASCAR Chase After Rough Day At Martinsville

For the first half of Sunday's race at Martinsville, it appeared as if Matt Kenseth was going to gain ground in the championship battle on his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards, who was struggling at the back of the pack. 

But as the race moved into the closing stages, Kenseth's car began to slip. And then he found Brian Vickers. 

Already involved in multiple incidents throughout the afternoon, Vickers raced Kenseth hard for the eighth spot with less than 50 laps to go. After an intense side-by-side battle, Kenseth spun Vickers, bringing out the 15th caution of the day. 

"He just kept hitting me in the door," Kenseth said of the incident. "We're at Martinsville and I kept giving him the bottom. Obviously, I'm not going to roll over and let him go with 40 (laps) to go, or whatever it was. He just kept driving in harder and harder. He slammed me in the door at least five times and ran me up into the marbles, and I was just tired of it. So I just spun him out."

Kenseth's struggles were not over, however, as he cut a tire going into the third corner on Lap 465. Collecting fellow Chase driver Kyle Busch, Kenseth shot up the track and was spun into the outside wall after contact with Joey Logano. 

The No. 17 went behind the wall with significant damage to the left rear, as his team scrambled to put his Ford back together and send it back on the track. 

"I really, honestly don't know what happened," he said. "I thought I left (Kyle) enough room. I don't know if I slid up into him, or what happened, but somehow we hit off of (Turn) 2 and it cut my tire. It ruined my day, along with his, and whoever else was collected in that mess."

Once the team was able to make repairs, his in-race feud with Vickers continued. 

With less than five laps to go, Vickers drove down the track and tried to get into the back of Kenseth's slowed No. 17 car. Vickers finally put an end to his destructive day, while Kenseth was able to continue, finishing 31st. 

Kenseth said the initial incident with Vickers "didn't help" the day, but didn't ruin his day, as he was already struggling with a loose car on older tires.

Despite their multiple incidents throughout the race, Kenseth said he has no plans of talking with Vickers. 

"What are you going to talk about? I'm sure he'll come down and yell or something," he said. "What are you going to do? He already destroyed our car again. I don't know. He knows why I spun him out, he ran into me about 10 times, so obviously it wasn't the first time, looking at his car."

Vickers never approached Kenseth after the race and was unavailable for comment.

The poor finish dropped Kenseth to fifth in the Chase standings, 36 points behind Carl Edwards with only three races left in the championship battle. 

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. On NASCAR Martinsville Race: 'I Came To The Buffet And Got Everything I Could Eat'

Following what appeared to be his most aggressive and wild race in recent memory, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was just as animated after getting out of the car as he had been moments earlier on the track during a seventh-place finish at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.

"That right there was basically, 'Hey, the season is running down, we're not gonna be racing much longer and I'm going to miss it,'" he said. "So I came to the buffet and got everything I could eat today!"

Earnhardt Jr. said he showed up this morning at Martinsville Speedway and was "just kind of hanging out," but he decided to have a couple of his sponsor's Amp Energy Drinks before the race started, and "I was probably a little too excited."

"I calmed down after awhile, but that first 100 laps, man, it was fun!" he said. "I was having fun, you know? I enjoyed it."

Perhaps his competitors weren't having as much fun. Earnhardt Jr. drove like a man possessed, rooting and gouging his way to the front and bumping plenty of cars along the way.

He accidentally spun Joey Logano, slammed doors with David Ragan and traded paint with Paul Menard, among others.

So was he worried about future retaliation?

"Nah," he said. "I mean, c'mon, man. Everybody I think I ran over – even accidentally – got me back in some way, shape or form today. I don't know if they think we're all even, but I ain't really worried about it. If they want to come at me, (then) come at me!"

Earnhardt Jr. said observers and fans may have been surprised at his racing style because NASCAR doesn't do enough short-track racing anymore.

"So when you see this kind of thing, you're like, 'Whoa! What's going on?'" he said. "Cause we run on these mile-and-a-halfs, and you don't ever see that crap. If we ran on these things more often, this would kind of be more acceptable, I guess, to the mind."

To that point, Earnhardt Jr. looked into the cameras around him and said (to some unknown powerful person): "Please build some more short tracks."

"We need some more short tracks," he said. "All these mile-and-a-halfs, man, I know you can get more seats or whatever, but they just don't really turn everybody on."

With Earnhardt Jr. so wound up after what he said was perhaps the most fun race of the season, one had to wonder if fans in post-race traffic were going to have to keep an extra close eye on their rear-view mirrors.

"Well, I'm helicoptering out of here," he said. "So they're in good luck today!"

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NASCAR At Martinsville Race Results: Tony Stewart Wins Third Chase Race Of 2011

Last weekend's race at Talladega was billed as the wild card race of the Chase, but Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway saw more twists and turns in the Chase standings than anyone could have predicted. 

In a race littered with cautions from start to finish, Tony Stewart rebounded from struggles throughout the race to top Jimmie Johnson on the final restart to score his third win of the 2011 Chase. 

The championship picture was shuffled greatly as Matt Kenseth was involved in multiple incidents with Brian Vickers to finish the day in the 31st spot.

Carl Edwards struggled for much of the day, but was able to rebound late in the race to finish ninth. Brad Keselowski, meanwhile, had a late spin and dropped to fourth in the point standings.

Here is a look at how they finished (Chase drivers in bold):

  1. Tony Stewart
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Jeff Gordon
  4. Kevin Harvick
  5. Denny Hamlin
  6. Jeff Burton
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  8. Martin Truex Jr. 
  9. Carl Edwards
  10. Ryan Newman
  11. AJ Allmendinger
  12. Casey Mears
  13. Regan Smith
  14. Kurt Busch
  15. Greg Biffle
  16. Travis Kvapil
  17. Brad Keselowski
  18. Joey Logano
  19. Clint Bowyer
  20. David Reutimann
  21. Ken Schrader
  22. Juan Pablo Montoya 
  23. Dave Blaney
  24. Paul Menard
  25. Kasey Kahne
  26. Hermie Sadler
  27. Kyle Busch
  28. Mark Martin
  29. Marcos Ambrose
  30. Brian Vickers
  31. Matt Kenseth
  32. Bobby Labonte
  33. David Ragan
  34. David Gilliland
  35. Jamie McMurray
  36. Reed Sorenson
  37. Scott Speed
  38. David Stremme
  39. Michael McDowell
  40. J.J. Yeley
  41. Joe Nemechek
  42. Landon Cassill
  43. Mike Skinner
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NASCAR At Martinsville Speedway: 2011 Start Time, Starting Lineup, TV/Radio Listings And More

It's NASCAR race day at Martinsville Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's Chase race for you below.

What time does the race start today? The Martinsville start time is a bit earlier than most Chase races because there are no lights and officials want to make sure the race has plenty of time to finish. The command to start engines will be given by a Tums contest winner at 1:53 p.m. Eastern time. The green flag will then wave at 1:58 p.m. Eastern. So if you want to tune in for the actual race itself and skip the pre-race show, just tune in at 1:58.

Race name/distance: The Tums Fast Relief 500 is not 500 miles, but 500 laps around NASCAR's shortest track, the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway.

TV and radio: Today's race can be seen on ESPN. Every Sprint Cup race will be on ESPN for the rest of the season. If you aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network (MRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of stations where you can listen.

National anthem: Marching bands usually do the anthem justice, so we have high hopes for today's performer – the North Carolina A&T Marching Band.

Tickets: There are plenty of tickets still available for today's race. If you want to make a last-minute trip to Martinsville today, you shouldn't have trouble getting a seat.

Weather: Brr! The unofficial NASCAR weatherman says conditions will be sunny, but only a high of 52 degrees at race time. Bring your jackets.

Last time: Kevin Harvick passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the final laps to win his first Martinsville race in April. One year ago, Denny Hamlin won and seemed poised to win his first Sprint Cup Series championship.

Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Martinsville Superspeedway (Chase drivers in bold):

  1. Carl Edwards
  2. Matt Kenseth
  3. Brad Keselowski
  4. Tony Stewart
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Kyle Busch
  7. Jimmie Johnson
  8. Kurt Busch
  9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  10. Jeff Gordon
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Ryan Newman
  13. Clint Bowyer
  14. Kasey Kahne
  15. Greg Biffle
  16. AJ Allmendinger
  17. Marcos Ambrose
  18. David Ragan
  19. Mark Martin
  20. Juan Pablo Montoya
  21. Paul Menard
  22. Joey Logano
  23. Jeff Burton
  24. Martin Truex Jr.
  25. Brian Vickers
  26. Regan Smith
  27. Jamie McMurray
  28. David Reutimann
  29. Bobby Labonte
  30. Landon Cassill
  31. David Gilliland
  32. Dave Blaney
  33. Casey Mears
  34. Ken Schrader
  35. Travis Kvapil
  36. Hermie Sadler
  37. Reed Sorenson
  38. Mike Skinner
  39. Scott Speed
  40. Michael McDowell
  41. Joe Nemechek
  42. David Stremme
  43. JJ Yeley

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Brad Keselowski: NASCAR Team Owner Roger Penske 'Doesn't Live In The Grey Area'

From team orders at Talladega to Michael Waltrip Racing's illegal windshields to Chad Knaus instructing Jimmie Johnson to intentionally damage his car, it's been a rough week for NASCAR in terms of politics and ethical concerns.

But it's not fair to lump all competitors into one group, Brad Keselowski said Friday at Martinsville Speedway. In fact, the driver said his Penske Racing team is willing to sacrifice some potential performance advantages in the name of rule-following.

Keselowski has asked team owner Roger Penske several times in the past why certain things aren't done to the cars.

Penske's answer?

"He's told me point-blank: ‘Hey, this is something that is a little grey and I don't live in the grey area,'" Keselowski recalled. "'It's not how I run my race teams, it's not how I'm going to run my race teams. And if I lose races because I'm not in the grey area, I'll accept that so that I don't have to answer for the races that I've won and been yelled at, or discredited, or had the asterisk put next to me for some sort of violation.'"

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for that," Keselowski added. "It's easy to fall into temptation of sorts to push it a little bit harder."

Penske's approach seems to be the exception rather than the rule in NASCAR. And Keselowski said he shares the same view of honorable racing, despite wanting to win as badly as anyone else.

"I don't want that win to be discredited in any way shape or form," Keselowski said. "If that means I have to lose a few to make sure that the wins I have are credited the right way, then I'll do that."

That might be surprising coming from a driver whose first career victory came after a scary wreck with Carl Edwards at Talladega and who has been known to use his fender to make a winning pass.

But Keselowski said integrity and hard racing are two very different issues.

"There's a question of integrity when you maybe stop on the race track to cause a yellow; there's a question of integrity when you maybe have something illegal with your car that you know about and things of that nature," he said. "... Those are different, in my opinion at least, than what I went through there at Talladega because they're further reaching."

Keselowski said a bump-and-run move to win the race is "ethical."

"Man, that's great," he said of hard racing. "(But) if you win a race because you have a cheated-up part that nobody else had and your car is faster, I think that kind of goes against the integrity of the sport and what has made NASCAR so successful to date."

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Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart On The Politics Of NASCAR Restrictor Plate Racing

Presidential hopeful Herman Cain might have made a recent stop in Talladega, Ala., but that was not the only politicking going on around those parts in recent days.

Last weekend's Sprint Cup Series race saw more politics than perhaps ever before as drivers, teams and manufacturers jockeyed for drafting partners throughout the weekend. 

The team orders and manufacturer commitments led to a lackluster race in the eyes of many fans and has some drivers calling for a change in proceedure

But much like anything, politics on the restrictor plate tracks is not a new phenomenon. It's just one that is more pronounced with two-car drafts. 

"When I started, the political games were (when) the teams when went to restrictor plate tracks and tried to not show their hand until race day," Tony Stewart said Friday at Martinsville. "Then NASCAR got chassis dynos and things they could pull after the race and figure out exactly what was going on, so that gave NASCAR a more accurate assessment of what the situation really was."

Stewart pointed out NASCAR "really can't control" what drivers do once on the race track, since it is difficult to determine whether drivers are pairing up because of team ordersmanufacturer suggestions or by their own accord.

 

For Jeff Gordon, who was left late in the race by Trevor Bayne for another Ford, committing to running only with your manufacturer could potentially hurt your chances at victory.

"If I feel like, on the last-lap restart, I can push a Toyota to get to the front and then leave him out coming to the line," he said, "I think that's a win for me and for our manufacturer is the way I look at it. I feel like I used (the Toyota) to get me there. So I think that's even an added bonus."

 

While some teams have denied the issuing of team orders, Stewart argued if you simply paused your television and looked at the pairings, "It pretty much tells the story of what is going on."

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how it's evolving that way because of the two-car draft," he said. 

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NASCAR Martinsville Starting Lineup: Rain Sets Qualifying Order For Chase Race

Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth would like to high-five Mother Nature.

The Roush Fenway Racing teammates, neither known for having much success at Martinsville Speedway, will start on the front row for Sunday's crucial NASCAR Chase race thanks to persistent rain which canceled qualifying.

When qualifying is rained out and practice has not yet taken place, NASCAR sets the starting lineup according to owner points. So as the Sprint Cup Series points leader, Edwards is now the pole-sitter.

He also gets to select the crucial No. 1 pit stall at the half-mile flat track.

Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Martinsville race, which should look incredibly similar to the point standings:

  1. Carl Edwards
  2. Matt Kenseth
  3. Brad Keselowski
  4. Tony Stewart
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Kyle Busch
  7. Jimmie Johnson
  8. Kurt Busch
  9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  10. Jeff Gordon
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Ryan Newman
  13. Clint Bowyer
  14. Kasey Kahne
  15. Greg Biffle
  16. AJ Allmendinger
  17. Marcos Ambrose
  18. David Ragan
  19. Mark Martin
  20. Juan Pablo Montoya
  21. Paul Menard
  22. Joey Logano
  23. Jeff Burton
  24. Martin Truex Jr.
  25. Brian Vickers
  26. Regan Smith
  27. Jamie McMurray
  28. David Reutimann
  29. Bobby Labonte
  30. Landon Cassill
  31. David Gilliland
  32. Dave Blaney
  33. Casey Mears
  34. Ken Schrader
  35. Travis Kvapil
  36. Hermie Sadler
  37. Reed Sorenson
  38. Mike Skinner
  39. Scott Speed
  40. Michael McDowell
  41. Joe Nemechek
  42. David Stremme
  43. JJ Yeley
DNQ: Dennis Setzer, Derrike Cope.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.: My Solution To End Tandem Racing In NASCAR

Last weekend's race at Talladega Superspeedway was atypical for Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

Earnhardt Jr. was committed to working with teammate Jimmie Johnson in a tandem from the beginning of the race, with the game plan to ride around the back of the pack and stay out of trouble. 

But not only did the pair stay out of trouble – they stayed out of contention for the win.

"We all sort of collectively sunk the ship as the race went on," Earnhardt Jr. said Friday. "We collectively learned our lesson and we won't do that again."

Looking back, Earnhardt Jr. admitted the race was "a bit of a disappointment" for the fans, now that the "new has worn off" from the two-car draft. 

So what's Earnhardt Jr.'s solution? More testing. 

"We need to go test," he said. "We need to take a lot of race cars and test a lot of things. Get creative and unique with a lot of ideas. Get everyone on the same package and really go thoroughly through it."

He pointed out the preseason test at Daytona each year accomplishes very little in the big picture ("really just burning fuel," he said) and would be an ideal time to work on finding the right package to break up the tandems and improve the quality of racing on plate tracks. 

Earnhardt Jr. would like NASCAR to work on making the spoiler "more narrow" and "smaller," while working on softer rear shocks.

"I think the spoiler is way too big," Earnhardt Jr. said. "When I look at the spoiler, I can't imagine there was a whole lot of study that went behind how effective it would be, what it would do. It's just a big piece of steel, as wide as it can possibly be and pretty tall."

The ultimate goal would be to reduce the size of the hole each car creates in the draft, thus allowing for more downforce on the cars behind. The current body style has a larger greenhouse, which thus creates a larger hole in the air and allows the second car to pull behind the lead car and drive away.

That's something Earnhardt Jr. – and many fans – would like to see eliminated. 

The hope is by altering the size and design of the spoiler, along with changing the shock package, a "beach ball" effect would be created between two cars, preventing them from connecting nose-to-tail as easily as they do now. 

What would Earnhardt's ideal change to the cars look like? Something similar to the aerodynamic package used from 1998 to 2004, he said.

That package saw smaller, rounder spoilers that arguably produced some of the best plate racing in recent memory. 

How did NASCAR get away from that driver-friendly, fan-favorite package? In Earnhardt Jr.'s eyes, the sanctioning body "detuned" the cars so much that it has put teams in a box. 

Prior to the introduction of the new car, crew members were able to push the envelope, work on molding the fenders, adjusting the body to make it as aerodynamic as allowed under the NASCAR rule book.

Now, that rule book allows for much less innovation and wiggle room.

Earnhardt Jr. said this has made things in NASCAR "super duper damn level" and has forced the "geniuses" in the garage to work "with their arm behind their back." 

He pointed out innovation and creativity have led to some of the best advances in the sport – but that is not happening with the more stringent rules NASCAR has in place. 

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NASCAR Martinsville Speedway: Revised 2011 Schedule

The NASCAR Martinsville Speedway weekend schedule has been revised after weather canceled all on-track activity for the Sprint Cup Series on Friday.

Cold drizzle and showers hung around the track all day, and the Camping World Truck Series were the only vehicles aside from the jet dryers to make it onto the half-mile oval on Friday.

NASCAR has issued the following revised schedule for the remainder of the weekend (all times Eastern):

SATURDAY

8:30 a.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (90 minutes)

10:40 a.m. – Camping World Truck Series qualifying

12:10 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying

2 p.m. – Camping World Truck Series race

SUNDAY

1:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race

*** Special note: *** With rain in the forecast for Saturday morning, there's a chance some of the Sprint Cup Series schedule could be affected by weather again. If that's the case NASCAR will give a priority to practice over qualifying. Practice would then set the lineup for the Cup race if there wasn't enough time before the Truck race was scheduled to begin.

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NASCAR Points Leader Carl Edwards Tries To Mind His Own Business

Carl Edwards is well-read and knowledgeable about a variety of topics, able to speak intelligently on subjects from economics to physical fitness.

The former substitute teacher is sharp enough to act as his own agent in negotiations and hold his own in nearly any non-racing setting.

But when it comes to various happenings in NASCAR, Edwards often pleads ignorance when asked to comment on an issue that doesn't involve him.

Edwards, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader heading into Martinsville, simply won't bite when reporters attempt to gather opinions on matters unconnected to the Roush Fenway Racing driver.

From other drivers' struggles to their contract situations to on-track conflicts, Edwards doesn't care to insert himself into a situation that's not about him.

That may sound unremarkable, but among NASCAR drivers, Edwards is the exception rather than the rule.

"If two people have a problem, I don't think it's right to stand up and state your opinion on that, because it's not your business," he said Friday. "I feel like it's important to mind your own business and take care of things in a respectful manner."

For example: When Paul Menard was accused of intentionally spinning at Richmond, Edwards wanted no part of the controversy when asked about it the following week at Chicago.

"I have heard people murmur that there was some issue with Paul Menard," Edwards said then. "That is all I know. I don't know. I didn't see it. I didn't hear anything."

Asked about a seemingly non-controversial subject at Kansas – the potential departure of his beloved University of Missouri to the Southeastern Conference – Edwards demurred.

"I don't know enough about that," he said.

Nor did he want to delve into a sensitive subject like the recent death of Dan Wheldon.

"My only comment about what happened in the race at Las Vegas is that my thoughts and prayers and my family's thoughts and prayers are with Dan's family," he said. "That is my only comment I would like to say about that."

To a reporter working on a story about the struggles of Denny Hamlin: "I don't know much about Denny's situation. I don't know exactly what he has struggled with. I don't know why they are in the position they are in, if it is failures or they have run poorly. I haven't paid enough attention."

It's not that Edwards is being a jerk about it. He is always respectful in declining the questions he feels he doesn't want to answer and usually explains why.

To Edwards, it's a matter of principle to stick to subjects that concern him.

"There's always more to the story, and I learned through trial and error that sometimes when you jump out there and you comment on something, you can actually be doing something that's not right," he said. "...I don't think it's fair to just throw out an opinion that's uneducated.

"I think that's the wrong thing to do and I don't appreciate it when people do that about me, so, therefore, I try not to do it about other people."

So it was no surprise, after having been through a months-long negotiation with Roush Fenway Racing on a new contract, that Edwards wouldn't speculate on the first reports of Danica Patrick's full-time NASCAR plans in August.

"You know what I am going to do, because of what I just learned with my contract?" he said. "I am going to just wait to see what Danica has to say. That is what I am going to do."

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Kyle Busch Does Not See Need For Major Changes At Joe Gibbs Racing

Denny Hamlin may have called for long-term changes to the way Joe Gibbs Racing builds chassis on Friday at Martinsville Speedway, but teammate Kyle Busch does not feel the same way. 

"I don't see those issues," Busch said. "Denny sometimes feels things in the car that I don't feel, or if I do feel them I drive through them."

Busch said conversations with other drivers in the garage seem to indicate most of the teams are struggling with the same issues, saying, "It's not just indicative of the JGR cars, it's across the board."

He admitted it is difficult for a team to manage the differing wants and needs of multiple drivers within the organization, but needs to find a consensus.

"Certainly, we can't build three different chassis for three different teams and three different drivers," he said. "They need to be the same across the board. It's just a matter of what you do with those chassis."

Busch can relate to Hamlin's concerns, though, after experiencing a similar situation with his Late Model program in years past. After getting "a few more smarter people" involved in the process, things turned around and they "haven't lost a race all year in Late Models."

"It's not a matter of chassis," he said. "It's a matter of what you do with it, how you bolt it together, what pieces you use, that kinds of stuff."

Busch credits much of his success to his work with crew chief Dave Rogers, but admits there is more work to be done. 

"There's still a lot for us to gain on," he said. "We're not the best by any means, for sure. There's nobody out there that is currently dominating this thing, either. You just have to take it in stride, take what you can get and get what you can out of the race cars each and every week."

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Matt Kenseth Enters Martinsville Speedway In Lighthearted Mood

Pressure from NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup? Matt Kenseth doesn't seem to be feeling any at all.

At least that's what we gathered from his lighthearted, joking mood when he came into the Martinsville Speedway media center on Friday morning – a mood he attributed to drinking "too much coffee."

Whatever the reason, Kenseth certainly seemed to be unaffected by the pressure of sitting second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, just 14 behind Chase leader (and teammate) Carl Edwards.

When Kenseth walked into the room on Friday, Jimmie Johnson was still finishing up his media availability and facing some difficult questions from the media.

"One more question!" Kenseth said, standing near TV cameramen.

"This is not gonna go well," Johnson said with a laugh.

"How often you gotta trim that beard to keep it looking that nice?" Kenseth asked.

"Once a week," Johnson replied. "Thank you. I could use a new trimmer if you want to pony up."

"I was just trying to make easy questions for you," Kenseth said. "Trying to divert the attention."

"Man, you're about 15 minutes late!" Johnson said, laughing again.

"Sorry!" Kenseth said.

After Johnson was done, it was Kenseth's turn to field questions from the NASCAR media.

Here's a sampling of some of his comments (keep in mind, these are all meant to be sarcastic or joking):

On Carl Edwards' threatening punch gesture toward Kenseth at Martinsville in 2007: "First of all, I'm just glad he cocked it and didn't fire it, because that would have hurt. I might still be laying out there somewhere."

On whether there could be tension between the two teammates going forward in the Chase: "If it stays 1-2, there's going to be a big fight at Homestead." Who would win that fight? "Who do you think?"

On a reporter who got a word wrong while quoting him: "I'm going to come over there and tear up your paper and yell at the same time."

On the toughest challenge in Sunday's race: "The pink curbs. It's going to be tough to look at 1,000 times. The yellow, you can kind of see where the side is. I think that pink curb is going to be tough. Once it starts turning a little bit black, it'll be easy to run it over. (Reporters laugh) What? I'm serious!"

Asked to describe the personality of team owner Jack Roush: "I think we've got practice here in an hour and a half or something (looks at watch). Seriously."

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Jimmie Johnson Surprised By Chad Knaus' Talladega Comment, Reaffirms Team's Innocence

Typically, Jimmie Johnson is talking about his championship run at this point of the season.

Instead, Johnson was busy Friday answering questions about a suspect comment by crew chief Chad Knaus prior to last weekend's race at Talladega Superspeedway. 

Johnson reasserted Knaus' innocence, saying NASCAR never raised an eyebrow while inspecting the No. 48 car.

"That car passed inspection multiple times throughout the course of the weekend," Johnson said. "At the end of the day, while Chad was trying to protect himself post-race, he made a foolish statement."

While he backed Knaus' story, he did admit he was "kind of surprised" when his crew chief leaned in and told him to wreck the back of the car, adding anyone could tell by his reaction in the car that Knaus' instructions were nothing he had ever heard before.

"This story can turn in a variety of ways and people are going to make of it what they want to," he said. "The facts are Chad released a statement, and that car passed inspection multiple times at the track. There really isn't more to it than that."

One of the best driver-crew chief combinations in the NASCAR garage, Knaus and Johnson have had their share of moments during this year's Chase. They have had heated discussions on the radio throughout races, Knaus accepted blame for Johnson's wreck at Charlotte and his surprise comment prior to Talladega caught his driver off-guard. 

Despite their struggles this year, Johnson said those issues are nothing new to the team. 

"There's no drama there," he said. "We've always prided ourselves in being honest with one another. There are times when he gets under my skin, and times I get under his. That's just pro sports. That's just the way it is."

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Denny Hamlin: Long-Term Changes Needed On No. 11 Team To Be Competitive

Denny Hamlin's 2011 season has not exactly gone according to plan. 

After losing the championship to Jimmie Johnson last year, Hamlin entered the season as the odds-on favorite, but his season got off to a rough start and never fully recovered. 

Hamlin has never been a factor in this year's Chase after three four finishes of 16th or worse, after making it in with one of the two wild card entries.

With the goal of winning another race before the start of the season, Hamlin has a solid shot this weekend at Martinsville, where he has four, adding a victory would "put a band-aid" over the frustrating season they have experienced.

Searching for ways to improve, Hamlin has continually called for changes within the No. 11 team and the Joe Gibbs Racing organization. With four races left  in the year, Hamlin understands that process will not happen over night. 

Top among Hamlin's concerns is the process in which JGR are building their race cars. 

"That's going to take a long time and I'm not going to expect things to happen this week, next week," he said. "I'm not going to get discouraged if I go to Homestead and they say, 'Alright, well this is half of what you want, this is three-quarters of what you want.'

"I know that when we get to Daytona or the next mile-and-a-half next year, we're going to have what I want in the cars. Hopefully, it's going to be the right thing."

While he admits the process will be lengthy, he indicated he will be getting some of the changes "in the next few weeks" and predicts his performance will show the difference. 

"It's going to take time," he said. "The things we need to change are looong-term things. They're not things that we can fix right now."

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Kevin Harvick Needs To Capitalize On Martinsville Speedway Potential To Keep NASCAR Chase Hopes Alive

Martinsville Speedway isn't quite Kevin Harvick's last stand when it comes to the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But it's getting close.

After a wreck damaged his car at Talladega last week, Harvick slipped to fifth in the standings and is 26 points behind Chase leader Carl Edwards.

To win the Cup title this season, the Richard Childress Racing driver said he'll need to take advantage of his skill on the two best remaining tracks for his team.

"We need to capitalize here and we need to capitalize at Phoenix to make up some ground," Harvick said Friday at Martinsville. "Obviously, (the Roush Fenway Racing cars') mile-and-a-half stuff has been good, and ours has been fair. You just want to make (the deficit) smaller as you leave here. If we can do that, I'd say it would be a good weekend."

Harvick hopes the weather allow the drivers to practice today on the half-mile flat track – and not just because he wants to tune his car for the race.

If practice and qualifying were rained out, the drivers would line up by points – giving Edwards the top spot. And Harvick believes Edwards and Matt Kenseth (second in points) would not start up front if practice were to take place, because "I don't think this is their strong suit."

So is the No. 29 team capable of a comeback?

Harvick said the Chase was "a long ways from over" and added "anything can happen over the next few weeks."

"I look at three of those racetracks as really strong points for us, and I look at hopefully being on the offense as you move forward," he said.

A local TV reporter asked what would happen to Harvick's title chances if he wasn't able to make up any ground on Edwards in Sunday's race.

Harvick offered his trademark wry smile.

"It's going to become harder," he said.

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NASCAR At Martinsville Speedway: 2011 Chase Weekend Schedule

The 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup moves on from the high banks of Talladega Superspeedway to the flat, half-mile Martinsville Speedway for this weekend's Tums Fast Relief 500. 

The championship picture grew a bit more narrow after last weekend's race, with six drivers vying for the title with four races left in the season. Jimmie Johnson still has a mathematical shot at rejoining the championship battle, but will have to put poor finishes and recent controversies behind him to do so. 

This weekend the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series joins the Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville, while the Nationwide Series has the weekend off. 

Rain is a threat at Martinsville on Friday and Saturday, so keep in mind the weekend schedule is subject to change.

Here is a look at the schedule:

FRIDAY

11 a.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice (1 hour, 20 minutes)

12:30 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)

2:10 p.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice (1 hour, 10 minutes)

3:30 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)

SATURDAY

10:40 a.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying (2 laps)

12:10 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying (2 laps)

2:00 p.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race (200 laps, 105.2 miles)

SUNDAY

1:30 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (500 laps, 263 miles)

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