Streeter Lecka

NASCAR at Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson wins, takes Chase lead

  • Live
22 Total Updates since October 25, 2012
  • Important 21
  • Updates 16
  • Articles 6
  • All Updates 22

Kurt Busch's car catches fire

Kurt Busch's car caught on fire during Sunday's race, and it was quite the scene.

Continue

Dale Jr. angry over late-race incident

Judging by the way he raced, Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemed none the worse for wear in his return to competition after a two-week absence.

The concussions that kept Earnhardt out of competition at Charlotte and Kansas, however, weren't on his mind after Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Instead, Earnhardt was lamenting a decision that in all probability cost him a top-10 finish.

When caution flew on Lap 475 after Kevin Harvick's engine blew, Earnhardt and Brad Keselowski stayed on the track on old tires while the rest of the lead-lap drivers came to pit road for fresh rubber.

As the race leader, Keselowski restarted from the inside lane on Lap 481. As the second-place car, Earnhardt was trapped on the outside and dropped like a rock.

The No. 88 Chevrolet fell back through the field into harm's way, ultimately to be wiped out in a chain-reaction wreck that started with Sam Hornish Jr. knocking Carl Edwards' Ford sideways into Earnhardt's Chevrolet.

"It felt pretty good -- just a little frustrated how we ended the day," said Earnhardt, who finished 21st. "We kind of gambled a little too much there at the end and cost ourselves a pretty decent race. We worked hard all weekend, worked hard all race long -- and sold the farm at the end...

"That was really ridiculous. You've got to use a little common sense. That was not a good move."

Continue

Keselowski's solid result keeps him in contention

When Brad Keselowski qualified 32nd for Sunday's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway, it seemed as if the vultures were suddenly circling over his championship hopes.

How could Keselowski, who entered Martinsville with a seven-point lead in the Chase, possibly hope to defeat Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin at the best track for both those drivers?

It seemed entirely possible Keselowski would finish outside the top 15, which would not only force him to relinquish the points lead but suddenly trail Johnson by a significant margin.

Keselowski did lose the points lead on Sunday, but hardly in the way most observers expected. He finished sixth and lost only nine points to the five-time Sprint Cup Series champion – not too shabby in the overall Chase picture – and now has a chance to race Johnson straight up for his first series title.

"It feels like you live another day," Keselowski said. "It's like being in war and surviving a battle. It's not necessarily a win, you're just happy to still do it."

Two of the three tracks remaining – Texas and Homestead – are tracks where Keselowski said he has a high degree of confidence he can not only hang with Johnson, but out-run him on speed. Phoenix is cause for concern, but Keselowski said his team can win the championship by besting the No. 48 team in two of the three.

"I believe we can do this, I really do," he said. "We've got work ahead of us, and I know that, but we're doing all the right things. And if you do the right things for long enough, good things will happen to you."

Keselowski appeared confident on Friday despite his poor qualifying result, and he said Sunday his attitude was not a front. Qualifying, he said, "is not a great indicator of how you're going to race." He knew the team would be able to move up in the running order, as it steadily did throughout Sunday's race while making no mistakes.

"I'm confident if we keep having fast race cars, it's going to be a fun run down the stretch here," he said.

During the penultimate caution of Sunday's race, Keselowski made the call to stay out instead of come to pit road. But his gamble was somewhat thwarted when only one other car decided on the same strategy, meaning there was no buffer between himself and fresh tires.

"We needed about three or four more cars to stay out," he said. "... I'm not upset about that. That's just the breaks. We haven't caught any good breaks over the last three or four weeks. When we do, and you match it with the execution we have, we're going to be really tough."

Ultimately, Keselowski was pleased with a solid finish but said he knew his team can't keep settling for "break-even weekends."

If the No. 2 team wants the championship, its driver knows he must get to Victory Lane at some point in the final three races.

Continue

Point standings: Is Chase down to two drivers?

There's a familiar face atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings: Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

After winning Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway, Johnson took the points lead from Brad Keselowski and is now ahead by two points with three races remaining. Keselowski will have to out-run Johnson at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead if he wants to stop Johnson from winning his sixth championship in seven years.

Johnson admitted as much in his post-race press conference, saying he believed the Chase was essentially down to two drivers.

"Now with the gap we have back to third, (I'll be) just focused on the 2," Johnson said. "I'll be well aware if the 15 or the 5 is leading the race and I'm 15th or something – I'll still understand what's going on – but the focus becomes a little more precise on the 2 car."

Here are the NASCAR Chase standings with three races to go:

  1. Jimmie Johnson
  2. Brad Keselowski -2
  3. Clint Bowyer -26
  4. Kasey Kahne -29
  5. Denny Hamlin -49
  6. Jeff Gordon -54
  7. Martin Truex Jr. -63
  8. Matt Kenseth -66
  9. Greg Biffle -69
  10. Tony Stewart -71
  11. Kevin Harvick -88
  12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -140
Continue

Denny Hamlin's Chase hopes end at Martinsville

Denny Hamlin came into the NASCAR Martinsville weekend knowing he needed a winning result to stay in Chase contention.

Instead, the visit to his best track turned into a nightmare.

After Hamlin twice overcame pit road speeding penalties, racing from the back to the front, a bolt broke off his master electrical switch late in Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 and shut off the No. 11 car's power.

Hamlin, who came into Martinsville still very much in contention for the championship, left 49 points behind after finishing 33rd on Sunday. He's now fifth in the standings and all but eliminated with three races to go.

"I've been in these Chases for seven years and I've had my fair share of electrical issues and motor issues and things like that," he said afterward. "All I can do is just drive my heart out, and if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. We'll have our time, it's just our time is not now."

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver conceded his championship hopes for this season were done, saying Sunday's race "ended our Chase chances."

And now?

"Just have fun," he said. "That's all I can do. Just go out there and be relaxed and enjoy this championship battle that's shaping up. It's a shame that we can't be a part of it, but we're going to work our way as far up in the points as we possibly can and just keep digging."

Hamlin looked to have one of the strongest cars in Sunday's race, but he was twice challenged to prove it when speeding penalties forced him to drop to the back of the field. He made the comebacks look relatively easy, though – just like he did in Saturday's Truck race – and seemed to overcome the issue.

But his car suddenly shut off under green, and Hamlin's team was unable to diagnose the issue. He was forced to spend roughly 30 laps in the garage as his competitors zoomed by, sealing his championship hopes for another year.

"I was hoping that possibly when I down-shifted coming down pit road that I somehow cycled the ECU (electronic fuel injection equipment), and I thought that maybe that was the problem," he said. "So I shut it off and tried to get that working again with no luck. It's just something that we couldn't control."

Continue

Results: Johnson takes Martinsville

Mr. Martinsville is back.

Holding off Kyle Busch during a five-lap closing green-flag run at Martinsville Speedway, polesitter Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 at the .526-mile short track and grabbed the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series lead from sixth-place finisher Brad Keselowski.

Johnson's fourth victory of the season and his seventh at Martinsville leaves Johnson in a familiar position. He holds a two-point lead over Keselowski with three races left in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Busch finished second .479 seconds behind the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet, who won for the 59th time in his career.

Kasey Kahne ran third, followed by Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 21st in his return to racing after a two-week hiatus.

Johnson had the lead on Lap 491 when a chain-reaction spin involving Sam Hornish Jr., Carl Edwards and Earnhardt caused the 11th caution and set up a restart on Lap 496

Denny Hamlin's championship hopes suffered a crushing blow when his No. 11 suffered electrical problems late in the race. After intermittent losses of power, Hamlin's car stalled on the frontstretch on Lap 391, causing the eighth caution of the race.

By the time his crew identified and fixed the problem -- a broken post on the master cutoff switch -- Hamlin was 34 laps down and mired in 33rd place, his finishing position.

Here are the full results from today's NASCAR race at Martinsville:

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

Viewer's guide: What to watch for in today's race

Here are some storylines, notes and drivers to watch for during today's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway:

Storylines

Johnson and Hamlin looking to close in on Keselowski

Even before hitting the track on Friday, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin all knew Martinsville was going to go a very long way to dictating who was going to win the championship.

For Johnson and Hamlin, Martinsville represented an opportunity to cut into Keselowski's lead, as the points leader has yet to post a finish better than ninth in five starts. Whereas the two challengers have combined to win eight of the last 12 races and will almost certainly be formidable this afternoon.

This thinking has been reinforced throughout the weekend, as Johnson and Hamlin have been fast from the moment they hit the half-mile oval, while Keselowski has struggled to find speed - as evident by the fact he qualified 32nd. And that listless effort in qualifying by the Penske Racing driver puts him in a precarious position today.

With track position being everything at Martinsville, Keselowski is already behind the proverbial eight-ball. Not only is he in danger of going a lap down early, but the odds of him getting caught up in an early incident - which could easily lead to his undoing - have risen dramatically. And now instead of Johnson and Hamlin having to catch him, the onus is now on Keselowski to find a way to catch them - far, far easier said than done.

The return of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After a two-week absence, all eyes will be on Dale Earnhardt Jr. as he makes his return from a series of concussions. Although there may be some question of whether he should have returned so soon - not to mention on a track where accidents are the norm and not the exception -- NASCAR's most popular driver isn't concerned. Earlier in the week he went through an extensive test session at a local short track, where afterwards he was given the all clear with the assurance that he was fit to get back behind the wheel on a full-time basis.

And despite never having won at Martinsville, the half-mile bullring does give him a very good chance of having a successful return. In his last four starts, Earnhardt Jr. posted four straight finishes of seventh of better - including a third in the spring race - and was third fastest in final practice.

Worth Noting
  • Today marks the 3,000 time a Jack Roush-owned car has started a Sprint Cup Series race. Roush's first Cup start as a car owner came in 1988 at Daytona with Mark Martin behind the wheel.
  • In the long history of Martinsville - a span of 127 races dating back to 1949 - only once has a driver started worse than 25th and gone on to win. That driver was Kurt Busch, who went to Victory Lane in 2002 after starting 36th.
  • Interestingly, no active driver has made as many Martinsville starts (14) without leading a single lap than Brian Vickers, who will start second today.
Favorites

1. Jimmie Johnson

This slot could have easily gone to Denny Hamlin, but Jimmie Johnson - a six-time Martinsville winner, who has a track-best average finish of 5.8 - gets the nod after winning the pole on Friday.

2. Denny Hamlin

Since the fall of 2009, Denny Hamlin has three wins here while Jimmie Johnson has been shutout of Victory Lane. So while today's pole-sitter may have been faster on Friday, it does seem that Hamlin has surpassed Johnson as the Martinsville master.

3. Jeff Gordon

In the spring, Jeff Gordon was dominant, leading 329 laps before a bonsai move late by Clint Bowyer took away a potential victory. Six months later the active Martinsville leader in wins, top-fives, top-10s and laps led is again quick; posting the second-fastest in the final two sessions of practice.

Continue

Race day: Start time, lineup, TV schedule 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 Tums Fast Relief 500 for you below.

What time does the race start today? Today's Martinsville race has the earliest start time of any race in the Chase. Because Martinsville has no lights, the race has to get going earlier than other NASCAR playoff events. Several military servicemen will give the command to start engines at 1:38 p.m. Eastern time, followed by the green flag at 1:43 p.m.

Race name/distance: Today's race is the Tums Fast Relief 500, which is 500 laps (not miles!) around the 0.526-mile track. In total, the drivers will race for 263 miles today.

TV, radio and live streaming: Today's race can be seen on ESPN, as will every race for the rest of the season. There IS live streaming of the race today, which can be found at NASCAR.com's "RaceBuddy" site and on the "Watch ESPN" app. If you'll be away from your computer and TV, check the Motor Racing Network's web site for a list of affiliate radio stations in your area.

*** NOTE: If you're out and about today and can't watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting updates about the event. ***

National anthem: The Winston-Salem State University :Red Sea of Sound" Marching Band will perform the national anthem before today's race.

Tickets: The race is not an announced sellout, so you should be good to go if you're planning to make a last-minute trip on race day.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's weather in Martinsville will be chilly and cloudy, but not rainy. Hurricane Sandy is still off the coast and will make landfall well north of where the track is. However, fans making the drive back to the northeast after the race should check weather conditions.

Last time: In April, Clint Bowyer dive-bombed race leaders Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and took everyone out, opening the door for a Ryan Newman victory. And last year, Tony Stewart got past Johnson on a late restart to win and get back into Chase contention – a huge victory for him at the time.

Here's the starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway:

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

Martinsville weather: Will rain impact the race?

Martinsville Speedway appears to be nestled between a stalled cold front to the west and Hurricane Sandy to the east. What does this mean for today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race? It means we should be able to get the race in and completed with few, if any, interruptions.

Sandy will continue to move slowly northward during the day Sunday. This will bring a breezy northerly wind. Speeds will range between 10 to 20 mph with some gusts near 25 mph. Rain chances are minimal but there could be an isolated shower in the afternoon and I also expect pockets of drizzle through the morning.

Skies should be cloudy for the bulk of the day and temperatures will be in the low 60s through the afternoon. With the exception of wind, Martinsville Speedway feels very little effect from Sandy during the day today.

Monday_midday_eastern_us_medium

The above image is for Monday midday across the Mid-Atlantic and northeast. Weather conditions will be nasty from northern and eastern Virginia up through Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, New Jersey and the southern part of New England as Sandy prepares to make landfall Monday evening.

I bring this up not because it will impact today's NASCAR race but it could have a major impact on fans going home from the race Monday. You probably have heard from the Weather Channel and various meteorologists that Sandy could very well be a "once-in-a-lifetime storm." Is it hype? In my opinion, no.

Most meteorologists haven't seen anything quite like this. We are breaking new ground on a storm like this and we want to make sure the public is safe and not take any chances downplaying the potential damage and impact this storm will have. If you're going to the race and have to travel to the states I listed, I'd leave as soon as the race is over. You'll still have some nasty weather to deal with but not to the magnitude if you wait to leave later.

Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook. I plan on making updates on the race weather as well as on Sandy.

SUNDAY
12:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-Race – Cloudy, breezy, slight chance of a shower – temp: 62
1:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy, breezy, slight chance of a shower – temp: 63
2:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy, breezy, slight chance of a shower – temp: 63
3:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy, breezy, slight chance of a shower – temp: 63
4:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy, breezy, slight chance of a shower – temp: 62
5:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy, breezy, slight chance of a shower – temp: 61

Continue

Hamlin: 'We need to win races and we know it'

All Denny Hamlin has to do is look at the Sprint Cup Series standings to realize how important this weekend's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway is to his title hopes.

With just four races left in the season, Hamlin finds himself trailing championship leader Brad Keselowski by 20 points and second-place Jimmie Johnson by 13. And while neither deficit is insurmountable, it does mean Hamlin can no longer afford to lose ground to the pair of drivers ahead of him in the standings.

"If we win, then it is going to be huge momentum," Hamlin said Friday at Martinsville. "It's going to give us obviously a large substantial chunk of the points that we are down we'll get back. If for some reason, we can lead the most laps and win the race, that's half of our deficit that we've got that we can knock out in one week. We can chip away from there.

"This place will build momentum or it will take. You just hope you are on the first side of that."

Hamlin's Chase so far has been a mixed bag of sorts, as he has continually had the speed throughout the playoffs but hasn't had the track position to go with that speed. And frequently that unfavorable track position has been a result of the No. 11 team suffering from poor fuel mileage.

"It's frustrating because you look at our finishes, and it just bounces between good and bad every single week," Hamlin said. "I was talking with Darian (Grubb, crew chief), and we've got to figure out a way to minimize that. We've got to figure out these fuel issues that keep bugging us every single week. Fuel mileage is what cost us going two laps down in the course of the race with those cautions last week. We've got to change our strategy."

What gives Hamlin confidence this weekend is that Martinsville represents a track where he has thrived ever since he burst onto the Cup scene in 2006. In that timeframe, the native Virginian has amassed four victories, nine top-fives and 12 top-10s and has done all this in just 14 starts.

"Ultimately, if we finish outside of the top five then there's something wrong," he said. "Something wrong with the car, something wrong with me; you come here and you expect to go up there and challenge for race wins."

All of which makes this the perfect race for Hamlin to narrow the gap – especially on Keselowski, who has never finished better than ninth and will line up Sunday from the 32nd position.

"There's no reason that we should lose points to the 2 this weekend," Hamlin said. "I don't anticipate it, I don't plan on it, but you need to widen that spread. We need to gain six to seven (points) and the way to do that is to win. If you don't win, then it's going to be very hard to gain the points that we need for the last three races."

Hamlin's mindset going forward is that his team needs to win to climb out of the hole they find themselves in –something that is doable when you factor in that the No. 11 team has been victorious on all four of the tracks left on the schedule.

"Right now, the biggest jump we can get is winning and getting those three extra points for winning – leading a lap and things like that," Hamlin said. "We can't afford really to even finish second and let those guys finish three, five, six – hat's just not a big enough chunk. We need to win races and we know it."

Continue

Gloomy weather – but dry – at Martinsville

The weather forecast for Martinsville Speedway and the Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup Series races is cloudy with just a small chance of an isolated shower or drizzle.

Nascar_forecast_martinsville_oct_2012_medium

Martinsville is between two systems – a cold front stalled along the Appalachian Mountains and Hurricane Sandy moving slowly north off the coast of the Carolinas. Wind flow associated with Sandy will keep cloudy skies through the entire weekend and with the front stalled to the west of the track there could be isolated showers and pockets of drizzle.

Sandy's impact on Martinsville Speedway is minimal this weekend. Sandy is not expected to become a major issue for the United States and the mid-Atlantic until Monday into Tuesday.

My concern for race fans when it comes to Sandy is the drive home after the race. If you are going to the race and your drive takes you north or northwest into the West Virginia mountains or toward Washington D.C., then weather will deteriorate through the day on Monday. This could make for nasty conditions for your trip home and if you can get an early start and home right after the race that would be the best idea before the storm makes landfall.

This is a complicated forecast but with low rain chances, and any rain expected to be light and mostly isolated around the region, I think we will get the Sprint Cup race in on Sunday. Stay tuned because this forecast could change very quickly.

Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the week.

SATURDAY
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Final Practice – Cloudy, cool, chance of a scattered shower or drizzle – temp: 65
2:00 p.m. EDT
Camping World Truck Race – Cloudy, cool, chance of a scattered shower or drizzle – temp: 67

SUNDAY
12:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-Race – Cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 61
1:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 63
2:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 63
3:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 63
4:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 62
5:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 61

Continue

How much will poor qualifying hurt Keselowski?

For the last several weeks, Brad Keselowski has posted solid results despite mediocre qualifying efforts. But Sunday's Martinsville race could be his toughest challenge yet.

Points leader Keselowski qualified 32nd on Friday while Jimmie Johnson (-7 points) won the pole position, meaning Keselowski will have a difficult task over 500 laps to make up enough ground on Johnson to retain the points lead.

Not only that, but a bad day by Keselowski might open the door for Denny Hamlin, who is currently 20 points behind but qualified fifth.

Keselowski, though, said he isn't worried. He played it cool in a post-qualifying news conference on Friday afternoon and said he was confident about his team's chances to have a good result.

"I thought last weekend (at Kansas) was harder to pass than this one will be, to be quite honest," he said. "That's not to say it's going to be easy at Martinsville, but there are quite a few more variables here that work to your favor with strategies and so forth, and I feel confident it'll work its way out here.

"Obviously, it's a very, very long race with 500 laps around here. There's a lot of tools in our tool chest to help us recover from that."

But what if Keselowski doesn't get the chance to recover through strategy plays? What if his poor starting spot gets him lapped by Johnson before the No. 2 team can use a pit stop to gain positions?

Johnson, who has 18 top-10 finishes in 21 Martinsville starts, said he'd "definitely be smiling in the race car" if that happened – but he wasn't expecting to do so, he added, based on how Keselowski looked in race setup during practice.

"Of course if you can get any Chaser a lap down and then put them in the situation where they're not the lucky dog (free pass) would be fantastic," Johnson said. "So that'll definitely be a priority, but I'm not going to do anything stupid on lap 5 that will affect the outcome of the race to make that happen."

Keselowski qualified 20th at Charlotte and 25th at Kansas, but managed to salvage decent finishes both times (11th and eighth, respectively). Still, Martinsville could be an especially tough place to stage a comeback.

"I don't enjoy qualifying like crap," he said. "That's not what I come to the racetrack to do, but that's been the course as of late.

"I take solace in the fact that the part that matters – the actual racing – my team has done a great job preparing excellent cars and executing on all levels. You focus on what you have that's going right, and that's what we have that's going right."

Continue

Starting lineup: Johnson nabs Martinsville pole

If the starting lineup is any indication, Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway could dramatically impact the Chase picture.

Brad Keselowski is the points leader with four races to go, but his seven-point margin over Jimmie Johnson is in jeopardy after Keselowski qualified 32nd and Johnson won the pole position.

The pole, Johnson's third of the season, might allow him to catch and possibly lap Keselowski early in the race before the No. 2 team can work on its strategy.

"I don't want to count them out," Johnson said. "It would be foolish for me to sit here and think they're not going to race their way through. ... They're going to have a tough time on pit road with that (pit stall) pick."

Brian Vickers qualified second in Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 car, followed by Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton and the other main Chase contender – Denny Hamlin.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., in his first race back after recovering from concussions, qualified 20th.

Mike Bliss and JJ Yeley failed to qualify for Sunday's race.

Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway:

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

Jimmie Johnson says pressure is on Brad Keselowski

If being in a points battle seems old hat to Jimmie Johnson, it's because, well, it is.

Every year but one in the Chase era, the five-time Sprint Cup Series champion has been in the thick of contention. And that again is true this season, as Johnson enters this weekend's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway a scant seven points behind leader Brad Keselowski.

So if there is a driver who would appear to be immune to feeling the pressure that goes along with competing for a title, it would be Johnson. But that's not the case according to him, as every driver still in contention is feeling the pressure to some degree – some though, more than others.

"The points leader I think has the most pressure," Johnson said Friday at Martinsville. "I like being in that position because you're still in control. When you're leading the points it's in your hands, but with that control comes pressure – especially later in the season and in the Chase. During different parts of the season it is an honor to lead the points – that honor is still there right now. But that light at the end of the tunnel is becoming much more vivid and the pressure is starting to set in."

Johnson is hoping to add to the pressure Keselowski is experiencing by doing what he does best at Martinsville: Run up front, lead laps and win – something he's done six times in his career. And that's in stark contrast to Keselowski, who has yet to finish better than ninth in five starts on the half-mile oval that resembles a giant paperclip.

"Coming here, the way we're sitting in points, I would hope to get a handful of points on the No. 2 (Keselowski) car," Johnson said. "And at the same time, Denny (Hamlin), I got a few points on him last week so if I gave up a few it wouldn't be that big of a deal. And I really think going down the stretch, it's going to be a game of a few points at a time. That's just the way my mindset is.

"But I'm focused on it this week a little bit and if I lose a little to the No. 11 (Hamlin), it's not what I want but I got a few last week; and if I'm able to get some on the No. 2, then we did what we should here."

What Johnson is hoping to avoid is a replay of last Sunday in Kansas, when he had a fast car, but became too aggressive in traffic and ended up wrecking. Miraculously, though, his team was able to fix the damage and the 48 team was able to salvage a ninth-place finish.

Despite the lapse, Johnson says he has no plans to start being more conservative behind the wheel. With the competition as close as it is, being tentative could ultimately prove to be just as costly as he pursues his sixth series title.

"Everybody makes mistakes and I would rather side on the aggressive side because I know what my competition is," Johnson said. "I know the 2 car is certainly racing that way and Denny is as well. You've got to stay aggressive. You can't protect and you can't conserve at this stage. It's all about living on that ragged edge."

However, unlike Keselowski or Hamlin, the one thing Johnson has failed to do so far in the Chase is visit Victory Lane, and that is something he feels he needs to change if he is to win yet another championship.

"I feel like at all four tracks remaining, we're one of the favorites to win," he said. "I feel like you have to win and you have to win during the Chase to be the champion. It certainly can be won without, but my mindset right now is win, win, win."

Continue

Dale Jr. discusses concussions with NASCAR media

Dale Earnhardt Jr. met with the NASCAR media on Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway, marking his first interview since announcing he would miss races at Charlotte and Kansas while recovering from concussions.

Here are some of his selected comments from the lengthy media session:

On whether he considered sitting out the rest of the season to recover:

Just like the decision to get out of the car in the first place, I wanted the doctors to make the decision instead of me. If I could race, I wanted to be at the racetrack – and if the doctors felt I was healthy enough to be doing it, I wanted to do it.

I really kind of left all that up to them throughout the whole process and I've been really honest and up front about how I felt every day. They feel like I can get back in the car, so that's what I want to do.

I felt like I could race at Kansas for sure and probably have raced at Charlotte no problem, and I felt foolish sitting at home feeling OK and not being in the car. It feels really unnatural. If I feel good and the doctors say it's OK, I want to be in the car.

On whether he could have remained silent and raced despite the second concussion:

I can understand people's opinions they would try to push through it or ignore it to stay in the car – because I did the same thing in the past. ... But some concussions are really bad, and I don't care who you are: When your mind is not working the way it's supposed to, it'll scare the shit out of you.

You're not gonna think about race cars or trophies or your job, you're going to think about, ‘What do I gotta do to get my brain working how it was before?' That's going to jump right to the top of the priority list, I promise you.

How a visit to the University of Pittsburgh's sports concussion program changed everything:

When I went up there to Pittsburgh, I was just really frustrated about, ‘Man, how long (are the symptoms) going to last? Is this ever going to be right again?' I had no answers, didn't know anything. And these guys up there, I asked them everything I wanted to know and we went through all these drills and exercises...and by the end of the day, I felt like I understood what I was dealing with and what the process was. I just felt a whole lot better.

On how he spent his time:

The first 48 hours, they told me not to do anything. I slept a lot. No TV, just basically walking around the house doing nothing. It was really weird. I went back to the doctor and told him I couldn't do that anymore, that I needed to watch TV or play video games or something. I needed some kind of entertainment.

I went to Pittsburgh and they put me on a physical and mental exercise program I did every day. That really made the biggest difference.

... It's really hard to see your car out there running around, turning laps without you in it. That was really difficult. It was frustrating sitting at home knowing how good of a car we had and not being able to enjoy that with the team.

I was on the phone with (the Pittsburgh concussion doctor) twice a day, talking about everything I was feeling, everything I was doing. I wanted to do it right. I didn't want to take any chances. I wanted to get back in the car as soon as I could, but I wanted to make sure it was not too quick.

On what it feels like to have a concussion:

Every concussion is different. They're kind of like snowflakes, and you react differently to each one.

... I would compare it to like a computer that has too many processes running in the background. Slows it down. Just doesn't work as fast, programs don't start up as quick and things sort of hang up in the middle. That's kind of what it's like.

On whether he's worried about taking his next big hit:

I don't really think about that too much. The one thing I can tell you is I'm going to be honest with myself and honest with the doctors and I'll do whatever they tell me to do. I want to be able to live a full life and not have any issues down the road.

I feel fortunate to have recovered from this concussion rather quickly. Had I tried to push through the second one, I would have put myself in a lot of danger. We can just hope I don't have any more big hits for while. I want to race for another five, 10 years and have some fun.

On Martinsville:

I feel like I've been out of the car for a year. It doesn't feel like a couple weeks. But I feel like we can go right to it, you know? I want to do a good job over the next four weeks. I want to run hard and go into every weekend trying to do what we've done all year long.

Continue

What impact will Hurricane Sandy have on NASCAR?

Up and down the East Coast of the United States, the focus this weekend will be on a very large and powerful storm named Hurricane Sandy. The question every NASCAR fan has is, "Will Sandy cause problems for Martinsville Speedway this weekend?"

Nascar_forecast_martinsville_oct_2012_medium

At this point, there is still a lot of uncertainty with what Sandy will do over the next 24 to 36 hours. My forecast right now is for cloudy skies and cooler temperatures – thanks to a cold front that moves through on Saturday – and a chance of a scattered shower.

If this forecast holds, then NASCAR has a good chance at getting this race on Sunday. It will all come down to how strong Sandy will get as it moves north in the Atlantic and then how close to the coast it will get and when it makes the turn to the west to make landfall on the United States.

The forecast models are still in disagreement, so only time will tell. My overall confidence in this forecast is at around 50 to 60 percent. Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the week.

FRIDAY

11:00 a.m. EDT: Camping World Truck Series Practice – Cloudy skies – temp: 66

12:00 p.m. EDT: Sprint Cup Series Practice – Cloudy skies – temp: 71

2:10 p.m. EDT: Camping World Truck Series Final Practice – Cloudy skies – temp: 72

3:40 p.m. EDT: Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Mostly Cloudy skies – temp: 73

SATURDAY

9:30 a.m. EDT: Sprint Cup Series Practice – Mostly cloudy, chance of a scattered shower – temp: 59

10:35 a.m. EDT Camping World Truck Series Qualifying – Mostly cloudy, chance of a scattered shower – temp: 61

12:00 p.m. EDT Sprint Cup Series Final Practice – Mostly cloudy, chance of a scattered shower – temp: 63

2:00 p.m. EDT Camping World Truck Race – Mostly cloudy, chance of a scattered shower – temp: 65

SUNDAY

12:30 p.m. EDT Sprint Cup Pre-Race – Chilly, cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 56

1:30 p.m. EDT Sprint Cup Race – Chilly, cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 58

2:30 p.m. EDT Sprint Cup Race – Chilly, cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 59

3:30 p.m. EDT Sprint Cup Race – Chilly, cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 59

4:30 p.m. EDT Sprint Cup Race – Chilly, cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 58

5:30 p.m. EDT Sprint Cup Race – Chilly, cloudy chance of a shower – temp: 57

Continue

It's official: Dale Jr. returning at Martinsville

After a two-week absence, NASCAR's most popular driver will return to the circuit.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to compete this weekend at Martinsville Speedway after multiple concussions sidelined him for two races.

Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty supervised Earnhardt Jr.'s rehabilitation program, which included a visit to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Sports Concussion Program.

Throughout all the tests, Earnhardt Jr. showed no symptoms – nor were doctors able to provoke further symptoms. Earnhardt Jr.'s last headache was Oct. 12, Petty said.

"Dale Jr. has done everything asked of him," Petty said. "... I have informed NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports that he is medically cleared for all NASCAR-related activity.”"

As a final test, Earnhardt Jr. ran 123 laps at Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia on Monday. Petty, who attended the test, cleared the driver following another examination on Tuesday morning in Charlotte.

Earnhardt Jr. had sustained an initial concussion while testing at Kansas Speedway in August – one which he kept secret – and had another during a spin at Talladega earlier this month.

Continue
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.