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Martin fourth, Johnson 16th in Phoenix qualifying

Martin fourth, Johnson 16th in Phoenix qualifying

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Mark Martin earned the fourth-best starting spot during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Phoenix International Raceway. His Hendrick Motorsports teammates rounded out the top 23.

Jeff Gordon won most recently at the one-mile oval, going to Victory Lane for Hendrick Motorsports in February.  In 30 races (107 starts) at Phoenix, Hendrick has nine wins, 31 top-five finishes and 55 top-10s.

Sunday’s race will air at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet
Qualified: Fourth.
At Phoenix: Martin, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet, earned his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win with Hendrick Motorsports at Phoenix International Raceway in April 2009. The then 50-year-old driver started from the pole position and led 157 laps en route to the emotional victory. It was his first win in more than three years and the 36th of his career. The victory also made Martin the fourth driver in NASCAR older than age 50 to win a Cup race. Overall, Martin has two wins, 12 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s at the one-mile oval. Martin leads all drivers in top-five finishes and top-10s there.
Most recently: In February, Martin suffered some damage in an early multi-car incident, but managed to get back on the racetrack with help of his No. 5 team. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet drove his way through the field to score a 13th-place finish.
Martin says: “I’m really excited to get out to Phoenix. It’s going to be an interesting weekend because the track is new to everyone. Throw out the old notes and setups. When we tested there earlier this year, our Chevrolet was really, really good. I wish we would’ve raced that day, that’s how good it was. I’m anxious to get there, get a few more laps on the track and see what we can get at race time. I’ve got two races left with this Hendrick team, and I really want to go for a win and show everyone what a good group of guys I’ve been working with.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet
Qualified: 23rd.
At Phoenix: Gordon took top honors at the desert oval in February when he overcame his 20th-place starting position to lead a race-high 138 laps. Gordon also visited Victory Lane at Phoenix in April 2007 after starting from the pole position. In addition to his two wins there, the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet has earned 10 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s during his 25 Cup starts at the one-mile track.
Chase report: After finishing sixth last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Gordon moved to eighth in the driver ranking. During this year’s Chase, the four-time Sprint Cup champion has earned three top-10 finishes and led 194 laps with two races remaining.
Gordon says: “It’s an unknown for all of us. It’s a new surface and we’re using a new tire. It’s basically a whole new racetrack. (Turns) 1 and 2 have changed quite a bit. Turns 3 and 4 really did not change a whole lot, other than the surface. And the back straightaway is completely different – there is no comparison of that part of the track to anything we race on anywhere else. It’s going to be tricky – there’s no doubt about that.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet
Qualified: 16th.
At Phoenix: Johnson has earned four wins and led 876 laps at the Arizona track, the most among all drivers there. Johnson’s most recent trip to Victory Lane came in November 2009 when he led the field for 238 of the event’s 312 laps. This year, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet finished third at Phoenix behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon.
Chase report: The five-time defending Cup champion maintained his sixth-place ranking in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after he finished 14th during last weekend’s event at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson is 55 points behind of the leader. 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: "From my experience there, I was a part of that first tire test and then the open test. For whatever reason, if it is the asphalt or the tire, or both, and obviously the dirty air, the wind blowing dirt and being out in the middle of the desert, it takes a long time to burn in a lane that you can adjust to.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet
Qualified: 22nd.
At Phoenix:  In 18 Cup starts at Phoenix, Earnhardt has earned two wins, four top-five finishes and eight top-10s. He also has led 460 laps at the short track. He earned his two wins there back-to-back, going to Victory Lane in November 2003 and November 2004 when Phoenix hosted one Cup event a season.
Chase report: With back-to-back seventh-place finishes in the most recent Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup events, Earnhardt ranks seventh in the championship standings. He finished seventh at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. Earnhardt goes into Sunday’s race trailing the Chase leader by 79 points.
Earnhardt says: “Having seen some improvement, having seen how close we came to winning a few races this year, how consistently we’re running, overall the statistics, my position in points – just being relevant and visible has been a big deal to me.”