MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Persistent rain showers prompted NASCAR officials to cancel Saturday’s qualifying session in hopes that the Sprint Cup Series will be able to practice instead. That means Sunday’s starting lineup at Martinsville Speedway will be set according to the owner points, and all three of Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase contenders will start inside the top 10.
Jimmie Johnson will line up seventh, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be ninth and Jeff Gordon is in the 10th spot. Mark Martin will roll off the grid 19th.
Hendrick Motorsports has 18 wins at Martinsville, which ranks as the most for the organization at any racetrack on the Cup schedule. Hendrick also has 60 top-five finishes and 97 top-10s during those 55 races (170 starts) at the paper clip oval. When Hendrick Motorsports made its first appearance at Martinsville on April 29 1984, Geoffrey Bodine led the final 48 laps to capture the checkered flag and earn the organization’s first career victory.
Sunday’s race will be televised on ESPN and is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet
At Martinsville: Martin, driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, is a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup race winner at Martinsville. In April 1992, he started 14th and led 33 laps on his way to Victory Lane. In 2000, he overcame a 21st-place starting position and led 64 laps to earn his second Martinsville win. In 47 career Sprint Cup starts at the short track, the 52-year-old driver also has earned 12 top-five finishes and 25 top-10s and has led a total of 344 laps there.
Most recently: In April, Martin qualified 12th for the Sprint Cup race at Martinsville. The Hendrick Motorsports driver overcame a penalty early in the race for changing lanes too soon during the restart to drive his No. 5 Chevrolet to a 10th-place finish.
Martin says: “I love going back to these old-school tracks that NASCAR has been racing on forever. They just fit me. The atmosphere at Martinsville is a little more laid back and the short-track style of racing is a lot like a lot of us drivers grew up doing. Brakes are the most important component at Martinsville. You can burn them up fast and easy if you’re not careful. If you can keep your car clean, have a little bit of patience and be able to hug that bottom line, you’re going to have a pretty good day.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
At Martinsville: In 37 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at the 0.526-mile track, Gordon has seven victories, 24 top-five finishes, 30 top-10s and has led 2,981 laps. The four-time Sprint Cup champion leads all active drivers at Martinsville in those four categories. During last April’s Sprint Cup race at the Virginia short track, Gordon led three times for 37 laps in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet and finished fifth.
Chase report: Gordon ranks 10th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He trails the leader by 82 points.
Gordon says: “I always enjoy coming here to Martinsville and certainly this weekend is no different. It’s a fun track. It’s one of those tracks on the circuit that very few things have changed over the years, or minimal compared to a lot of the bigger tracks with aerodynamics and with the engineering how it affected those tracks this is the one that has the least amount of affects so all those years of experience and laps around here still continue to pay off. So, very excited about getting out there on track. I hate this rain is here. I look forward to when it goes away and finally getting out there.”
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 myLowes Chevrolet
At Martinsville: During his past 19 starts at the paper-clip oval, Johnson has earned six trips to Victory Lane as well as 13 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s. According to NASCAR's loop data statistics, Johnson‘s 3.8 average finish during the past 13 races at Martinsville is the best among active drivers. During the April Sprint Cup event at the racetrack, Johnson led 65 laps and earned an 11th-place finish.
Chase report: Johnson, the five-time defending Cup champion ranks seventh in this year’s Chase. He is 50 points behind of the leader.
Johnson says: "Quirky tracks have always worked for me. And this track certainly is that. When I first came here, the first year or year and a half, there was no way I thought this track would be one that I liked. But in time, and in learning how to drive it, there is just one way to really get around here. And a lot of tracks have a lot of other options but there's one very specific line you have to run and when a guy finds it, and he can set his car up to it, you go and go and go for years. And that's what Denny (Hamlin) has been able to do and what we've been able to do and Jeff (Gordon) has done. So I really think it falls into that category. You go to a big track and there are three or four lanes to run on, you can move around and find somewhere that works for your set-up if you missed it (and) for your own driving style. That's not the case here. There's one way to drive this place and that's it."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Paint the 88/National Guard Chevrolet
At Martinsville: In 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Martinsville Speedway, Earnhardt has scored nine top-five finishes, 12 top-10s and led 865 laps. He recorded a career-best runner-up finish at the Virginia short track behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet in October 2008 and again in April 2011.
Chase report: Earnhardt currently holds the ninth position in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after finishing 25th last Sunday at Talladega. Earnhardt trails the leader by 74 points with four races remaining in the 2011 season.
Earnhardt says: “Martinsville is a short track so you’ve got to be able to roll around the middle. You’ve got to be able to have good forward bite there. Getting in the power and getting the power down is real important.”