HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned starting spots inside the top 11 during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin will roll off the grid 25th in the season-finale.
In 12 races (47 starts) at Homestead, Hendrick Motorsports has 10 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s. The organization has three runner-up finishes, including two by Johnson, who finished second in the 2010 event. Homestead is one of just two active Cup tracks where Hendrick Motorsports has yet to reach Victory Lane. A win there this weekend would cross the 1.5-mile racetrack off the list as well as give the organization its 200th Cup victory.
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet
At Homestead: Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of just five active tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit where Martin has not yet earned a win. In 11 Cup starts at the 1.5-mile oval, Martin has posted four top-five finishes, including the runner-up spot in the 2005 Sprint Cup finale.
Most recently: During last year’s Cup event at the 1.5-mile oval, Martin started eighth on the grid and finished 16th.
At Hendrick: Sunday’s race also will be Martin’s final event in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Since 2009, Martin has competed in 107 points-paying events for the team. He posted five wins in 2009 and earned his fifth runner-up finish in the Sprint Cup Series final point standings. In 107 Cup events, he’s scored 23 top-five finishes, 42 top-10s and 10 pole positions in the No. 5 Chevrolet.
Martin says: “Hendrick Motorsports is just an amazing, amazing race team. And what makes it that way are the people who are there. These last three years of my career have been incredible. It was so flattering to me when Rick (Hendrick, team owner) hired me and made me a part of this group of drivers. Jeff (Gordon), Jimmie (Johnson) and Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) have been great teammates and friends of mine. Working with Rick – I’ve gotten the chance to know him on a more personal side. His people skills are incredible and what he’s built with this race team is something he should be very proud of. The fact that, when I look back on the wins in my career, that I had the opportunity to earn five of them with Hendrick Motorsports, is something I’ll always treasure.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
At Homestead: In 12 starts at Homestead, Jeff Gordon has five top-five finishes and nine top-10s, but he has yet to win at Homestead in NASCAR’s top division. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet scored his best finish (third) behind teammate Johnson during the 2004 Cup Series finale. In 2000 Gordon went to Victory Lane in a NASCAR Nationwide Series event there.
Chase report: Gordon finished 32nd during last weekend’s Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway after battling handling issues for the majority of the day. Gordon is ranked 11th in the championship standings.
Gordon says: “We tried some things in Texas that seemed to have us moving in the right direction. We’ll see if we can improve on that this weekend. A solid run can give us confidence and momentum as we go into the off-season and 2012.”
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
At Homestead: Johnson never has earned a win at Homestead, but his consecutive top-15 finishes at the track during the past five seasons helped secure the No. 48 team their five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. Overall, Johnson has earned four top-five finishes and seven top-10s during his 10 career starts at the track. Johnson crossed the finish line in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet as high as second-place twice, most recently during last year’s Cup finale at the 1.5-mile oval.
Chase report: The five-time defending Cup champion improved to a fifth-place rank in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after he finished 14th during last weekend’s event at Phoenix International Raceway, but it no longer in contention for the championship victory. Since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was implemented in 2004, Johnson has earned 20 wins, 43-top five finishes and 58 top-10s during Chase races, the most of any active driver on the circuit.
Johnson says: "Yeah, I'm definitely disappointed that we won't be able to go to Homestead and race for our sixth (consecutive driver's championship) but that's motorsports. It's a very tough business. What we did over the last five years was absolutely spectacular and I've just got to thank Lowe's. I've got to thank Hendrick Motorsports, Chad Knaus (crew chief), and this whole race team for giving me everything they've had these 10 years. Even though we're not in position to win the championship now, we're going to go to Homestead and try to have our best race down there that we can and finish as high as we can in the points."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet
At Homestead: In 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Earnhardt has led 93 laps and recorded two top-15 finishes and four top-20s. He scored his best finish -- 13th -- at Homestead during his rookie season in November 2000.
Chase report: Earnhardt struggled to gain track position during last weekend’s Cup event at Phoenix and finished 24th, but the driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet maintained his seventh-place position in the championship standings. This is the highest Earnhardt has been ranked in the championship standings entering the season finale since 2006, when he was ranked fifth. He finished the 2006 season fifth.
Earnhardt says: “The way they ditched the banking has made it a real challenge for me. I can’t really get a car to roll through the center and turn well. I haven’t had a car that was quite free enough in all the times being there. As I drive into the banking, it gets tighter and tighter as it loads the right front into the banking. It just doesn’t suit my style. I’m going there with a new crew chief this year and he prepares a car completely different than the guys I’ve worked with in the past. Maybe that will be the difference.”