Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth prepare for Martinsville showdown

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

While Jimmie Johnson has long ruled at Martinsville, Matt Kenseth has struggled. But if he wishes to keep pace in the championship, Kenseth knows this weekend is pivotal.

The narrative is obvious. Now atop the Sprint Cup standings and heading to his favorite track where he's won more than any other active driver, Jimmie Johnson seems destined to secure his sixth series championship.

Johnson's statistics at Martinsville Speedway overwhelmingly support this theory.

"It's certainly a place that I know we need to come in and perform and we need to run up front and we need to get a good finish."-Matt Kenseth

The half-mile track has evolved into his own personal playground. In addition to the eight victories he owns, Johnson also has an eye-popping average finish of 5.3 and has only one result worse than 12th -- a 35th in his rookie year in his first ever race at Martinsville.

The No. 48 team doesn't just excel at the track that resembles a giant paperclip, they reign supreme.

"Very happy to be here, the week was a comfortable week, one from having a decent finish at Talladega and taking the points lead," Johnson said Friday. "Then, two, rolling into a track that is historically really good for the No. 48. It's been a good week, but again that doesn't guarantee anything for the weekend. We have to go out here and get the job done and work hard."

And playing into the storyline that Johnson is in control of the championship, is how much Matt Kenseth, four points behind Johnson, has historically struggled at Martinsville.

Throughout his career, the short track more often than not has vexed the 2003 Cup champion. In 23 career starts Kenseth has recorded just eight top-10s, and is still searching for his first trip to Victory Lane. More problematic, is his average finish of 15.8, which if holds true this weekend would give Johnson a decided advantage.

"It's certainly a place that I know we need to come in and perform and we need to run up front and we need to get a good finish," Kenseth said. "You can almost pencil the (No.) 48 in -- anything can happen, but past history shows that they're pretty hard to beat here."

Expecting the obvious, however, to occur Sunday may not be rational.

With a new team this season after leaving his longtime home at Roush Fenway Racing, Kenseth looked like a different driver when the series visited in the spring. Aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, an organization with long history of success at Martinsville, Kenseth led 96 laps -- more than he had ever led in his previous 22 races combined there -- with an average running position of fourth.

Plus, Kenseth has made a habit this season of shining on tracks that had once been weaknesses. He won at New Hampshire in September, a place where he had been winless in 28 prior starts.

"I don't know why it's always been such a struggle, although I do feel like the last couple years on average it's been much better," Kenseth said. "... This spring at least the first half of the race we were really good and really competitive and really, really helped me be better because we had the car good.

"Some tracks feel natural to you and comes real easy, fits your style and other ones are just a lot more work. This one has just been in general a lot more work for me than other tracks."

While he may not be able to unseat Johnson Sunday, there's no reason to think Kenseth can't keep pace and leave with a top-five. And if he can do that, Johnson's apparent advantage would be minimized.

More so, with the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway up next, a style of track JGR has dominated this year, Kenseth feels he would seemingly be poised to take back control of the championship.

"It's not about getting through this weekend," Kenseth said. "I've obviously never won here and don't have a lot of good finishes here, so just looking at that I know this is probably going to be more challenging.

"The next three tracks, I think we've won at all of them and had good cars there and had decent history there. I feel like all three of those are the type of tracks that if we hit it right that we could have a chance to go win and race with anybody."

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

NASCAR Power Rankings: Jimmie Johnson tightens grip

RPM fires crew chief after failed drug test

Jamie McMurray wins at Talladega

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