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Johnson, Martin qualify in top five at Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. – Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin will line up side-by-side in the field for Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Richmond International Raceway. Johnson earned the third-place starting position during Friday’s qualifying session at the .75-mile short track followed by Martin in fourth. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will roll off the grid 17th and 27th, respectively.

In 55 Sprint Cup races, Hendrick Motorsports has 10 wins, 47 top-five finishes and 82 top-10s at Richmond. A Hendrick Motorsports driver ranks first in several categories among the active field at the Virginia short track: Earnhardt and Johnson rank tied for first with three other competitors in the win category with three apiece; while Martin owns the most top-five finishes with 17. Gordon leads all drivers with five pole positions and 1,406 laps led.

Saturday’s race will be televised on ABC at 7 p.m. ET.

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 Quaker State/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet

Qualified: Fourth

At Richmond: In 51 career Sprint Cup Series starts at Richmond, Martin has earned one win, 17 top-five finishes and 27 top-10s. He went to Victory Lane there on Feb. 25, 1990, after starting sixth and leading just 16 laps. Martin’s average Richmond finish of 12.2 ties Darlington (S.C.) Raceway as his fourth-best at any oval track on the circuit 

Chase report: The driver of the No. 5 Quaker State/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet ranks 19th in the Sprint Cup standings after finishing 17th at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Tuesday. Martin and the No. 5 team enter Richmond with a mathematical chance of making the Chase, should they win Saturday’s race.

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet

Qualified: 17th

At Richmond: Gordon has two wins, five pole positions, 14 top-five finishes and 23 top-10s in 37 Cup starts at Richmond.

Chase report: He already has clinched a spot in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and further cemented his position by winning last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Power of Pride Chevrolet

Qualified: Third

At Richmond: Johnson has made 19 Sprint Cup Series starts at Richmond International Raceway, where he has three wins, five top-five finishes and seven top-10s. He has completed 93.9 percent (7136 of 7603) of competition laps at the .75-mile track and has led 376 total. This weekend, Johnson will pilot Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 48-590, which he drove to a fifth-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July.

Chase report: Johnson, the current leader of the driver standings, clinched his spot inside the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after finishing fourth at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last month.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet

Qualified: 27th

At Richmond: In 24 Cup starts at Richmond, Earnhardt has three wins, eight top-five finishes and 10 top-10s. He has an average start there of 16.2 and an average finish of 14.3. He has completed 99 percent of all the laps he’s attempted (9,508 of 9,603 total) and led 427 laps at the short track 

Among active drivers, Earnhardt is one of five ranked first in wins with three Cup victories at Richmond. Those three wins rank the quintet – including Johnson—fifth on the all-time list at the short track. Earnhardt most recently went to Victory Lane at Richmond on May 6, 2006, after leading 47 laps.

Chase report: With one race remaining until the field is set in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ranks ninth in the championship standings. He trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 120 points and leads 11th-place Brad Keselowski by 25 points. Regardless of how the competition performs at Richmond, Earnhardt can clinch a spot in the Chase if he finishes 20th or better, 21st or better and leads at least one lap or 22nd or better and leads the most laps.

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