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Johnson, Martin and Earnhardt qualify top 15 at Charlotte

Johnson, Martin and Earnhardt qualify top 15 at Charlotte

CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson posted the ninth-fastest time during Thursday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Chevy 100th Anniversary Chevrolet will start inside the top 15 with teammates Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Saturday’s Cup event, which will be televised at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

In 55 events (183 starts) at Charlotte, Hendrick Motorsports has 16 wins, 49 top-five finishes and 75 top-10s at the 1.5-mile racetrack. The team has led 3,828 laps there. Johnson most recently won this race from the pole position in October 2009.

This weekend all four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets will carry special paint schemes at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend to honor Chevrolet’s 100th-year anniversary.

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 100th Anniversary Chevrolet
Qualified: 13th
At Charlotte: Martin will make his 54th career Sprint Cup start on Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the most for him at any track on the NASCAR circuit. The 52-year-old has earned four wins, 18 top-five finishes and 23 top-10s at the intermediate track. He has raced more miles -- 25,599 -- at Charlotte than any other track and has led 1,183 laps (1,774.5 miles), which is the third-most for the NASCAR veteran at any track on the circuit. Martin’s 29 lead-lap finishes at Charlotte are the most for any driver there. He also leads all active drivers in top-five finishes (18) and in top-10 finishes (23) at the 1.5-mile track.
Chase report: The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet did not qualify for the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup field, however, the team ranks 16th in the Sprint Cup standings after finishing 19th at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
Martin says: “This is my absolute favorite track we race on. There’s so much room to race here. Provides for a lot of passing, and hopefully a lot of excitement for the fans. I’ve felt comfortable racing here since the first time I was here in 1982. It’s big, but it races like a short, high-banked quarter-mile track that I was used to running back home in the Midwest.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger/Chevy 100th Anniversary Chevrolet
Qualified: 23rd.
At Charlotte: In 37 starts at the Charlotte track, Gordon has five wins, eight pole positions, 16 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s. Charlotte is also the site of his first Cup Series victory (1994) and first Cup Series pole (1993).
Chase report: Gordon ranks 10th in the standings after experiencing an engine issue last week at Kansas Speedway. He is 47 points behind leader Carl Edwards.
Gordon says: “We’re definitely looking to win races now. We aren’t out of the championship discussion, but a lot is out of our control. Our focus now is on leading as many laps as we can and winning as many races as we possibly can. “Then we’ll see where we stand after a few more races.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Chevy 100th Anniversary Chevrolet
Qualified: Ninth.
At Charlotte: In 20 Cup starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson has six wins, 10 top-five finishes and 14 top-10s. He has led 1,385 laps and completed 96.7 percent of all the laps (6,816 attempted of 7.050 total) at the 1.5-mile speedway. The driver of the No. 48 Chevy averages a 10.8 finish there.
Chase report: Johnson improved to third in the championship standings after winning last weekend’s Cup event at Kansas Speedway. The five-time defending champion trails first place by four points.
Johnson says: "We have a lot to be proud of from last weekend’s race. Great work on pit road. Great race car. Great pit calling. So, a lot to build on; a lot to be happy with. I’m excited with our mile-and-a-half program. At the start of the year; midway through the year, it was a soft-spot for us and an area that we probably talked about a few times in these get-togethers about how we needed to be better on those tracks. We’ve got there, especially in race conditions. We have the speed in the car and the comfort in the car to go out there and race for wins. Very happy about that. Excited to come back to a mile-and-a-half and to a track that has been so good to me over the years. Excited to get out there and see what we’ve got.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard/Chevy 100th Anniversary Chevrolet
Qualified: 15th.
At Charlotte: In 24 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at Charlotte, Earnhardt has recorded one pole position, five top-five finishes and 10 top-10s. He has completed 94.7 percent of all laps he's attempted (8,132 laps of 8,584 total) at the 1.5-mile oval. The 37-year-old driver has led a total of 324 laps there. Most recently, Earnhardt was right where he wanted to be when the field took the white flag at the May 600-mile event at Charlotte. Earnhardt was leading on the last lap but ran out of fuel on the backstretch; he was able to coast his car to a seventh-place finish.
Chase report: Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard/Chevy 100th Anniversary Chevrolet, currently holds the ninth position in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after finishing 14th last Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Earnhardt trails leader Carl Edwards by 43 points.
Earnhardt says: “I was hoping to have won a Cup Series race in a points paying race there by now. We came in and won the All-Star race (in 2000). We’ve had some good runs since then, but haven’t won. Then we came so close this year to almost winning. Being so close to home, that’s one of the places that you really want to get a trophy from. So hopefully that will happen. That’s kind of my Daytona 500 now.”