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Virtual Pit Reporter: Updates on 25 teams

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1) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Threatening to run away with the Nextel Cup title, even in a manipulated format like the Chase, Gordon has a two-race winning streak as he heads to Martinsville, another one of his best tracks. In 29 Martinsville starts, the four-time Cup champion has seven wins including this race in 2005, 17 top-five finishes and 23 top-10s. During the 2007 Chase, Gordon has visited Victory Lane twice and posted four top-five finishes in five events. He has a 4.0 average finish in those races and has opened a 68-point cushion over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in the standings. "We've had a great start to the Chase, but we can't let up," Gordon said. "Jimmie put together a great string of races last year to win the championship, and other Chase drivers have the ability to do that as well. You have to be aggressive but smart and patient during the Chase. I believe that's what will win the championship. Everybody is going to step up their game during the Chase, so we've got to step up our game, too. If they've stepped it up more than us during one particular weekend, we have to keep them in our sights. If they finish first or second, we need to finish third or fourth."
  • Last week: Gordon returned to the scene of his first career NASCAR Cup victory and solidified his hold on first place in the Chase by winning Saturday night's Bank of America 500. With five laps to go following the 14th caution period of the race, it was set up as a five-lap shootout between the Chevrolet Monte Carlos of Gordon and Kyle Busch. Gordon, who won his first Cup race there in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, got a great restart, but Busch went underneath him in the second turn. While that happened, Ryan Newman went to the outside and stole the lead away from the two Hendrick drivers. But just as Newman appeared a cinch to win the race, he crashed in the second turn on lap 332, setting up a green-white-checkered flag finish. With fuel-pickup problems a concern on Gordon's Chevrolet, he got a clean restart and was able to pull away from Clint Bowyer's Chevrolet, scoring his 81st career Cup victory by 0.579 seconds. It was his second consecutive win and his sixth this season. "I can't tell you how many times we tried to give that win away," said Gordon. "Jimmie Johnson had us all covered, and when he had his problems I saw that as an opportunity for us. I was saying 'No caution,' and then the thing ran out of gas on the banking. I wasn't smart enough to know to run on the apron until the last time. Clint Bowyer gave me a shot on the bumper on the restart, and that got me going again." It was Gordon's first win at Lowe's Motor Speedway since 1999 and the first time in three years he has finished a race there.
  • Etc.: Gordon did not instantly take to the tight Martinsville short track. "For me, Martinsville was a difficult place to figure out early in my career," he said. "It took a lot of laps during a test session -- I think it was 1994 -- before I found my rhythm here. Throughout that test, nothing was working. So I just started trying some different things -- like how I drove the car and attacked the track -- and we hit on some things." Gordon has been on a bit of a tear recently at the 0.526-mile track, winning four of the last nine races there and finishing in the top 10 in all nine. Only three drivers have won there since 2005: Gordon, Johnson and Tony Stewart -- three of the top four drivers in the standings. "Tony is very good here, and Clint Bowyer (third in the point standings) has been strong during the Chase," Gordon said. "Jimmie and I had a great battle over the closing laps during the spring race here, and I expect the 48 team to be strong again. We just couldn't get the DuPont Chevrolet to turn the middle of the corners last time here, so we'll focus on making that better this weekend."

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    2) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Johnson hopes to duplicate his success at Martinsville in April, when he edged Jeff Gordon in a fender-banging race on the final lap. He needs to find a way to finish ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate in order to make up the 68-point deficit with just five races remaining. "I think at Martinsville we'll put on a good show," Johnson said. "It will be like what we saw in the spring. I don't think you're going to have the same concerns of a 'big one' on the short track. You certainly have spins and catch four or five cars, but you can't clean out 15 cars. So I think everyone will be back to normal and racing hard there. With the bumpers and how tough these cars are, we might actually see a more intense and exciting Martinsville than what we had in the spring." In 11 career starts at Martinsville, Johnson has three wins, two of them in the last two races there, seven top-five finishes and 10 top-10s. ... Despite battling his teammate, Gordon, for the lead, Johnson said the two remain friends. "We're certainly still close," Johnson said. "With him now being a father, our social scenes have ventured in different directions. We still are very close with Jeff and Ingrid. We spend time, go to dinner and do those things. ... We're still close, absolutely still close. As time has gone on, he's helped me get off on my feet, and I haven't been in the situation of needing as much help with driving the car and maybe some of the business stuff and things like that. So our conversation is probably less on the work side and more on the personal side and how each other are doing and what's new and how many diapers has he changed this week and things like that. The friendship is still there and it's as strong as it's ever been. I think as years go on, from my side I respect him and what he's accomplished more and more, especially how he's carried himself through Hendrick Motorsports, through our sport. And the fact that he brought me into the fold and put me in the No. 48 car and how his leadership and the way things work between the No. 24 and the No. 48, it would be easy for them to be sour and to have the dynamic be too competitive and us not work well together. But Jeff's really been the head of that and has led the team through all of that. I have more respect for him today than I did when I started driving for him."
  • Last week: Johnson is coming off a 14th-place finish at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
  • Etc.: Johnson was at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis on Tuesday for a Car of Tomorrow test. The session focused specifically on the Nov. 11 race at Phoenix, the penultimate event in the Chase. The California native has eight top-15s and two runner-up finishes in eight starts at Phoenix, but he's leaving nothing to chance when it comes to possibly winning his second consecutive title. "We're trying to find some more speed," Johnson said during a break in the test session. "We're trying to work on some things that, due to the lack of testing we have with the Car of Tomorrow. We're trying to find some speed, trying to work on some ideas we've had. We think at Gateway, out of the tracks that are out there, it's the closest to Phoenix that we can find. We're just here to sort out some new stuff."

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    3) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Bowyer starts his fourth race at Martinsville still looking for his first top-10 finish there. His best was an 11th-place last April. "You still see the same guys who have won or run well at Martinsville do the same thing," Bowyer said. "We've picked up our Car of Tomorrow program, big time, so I think we have the potential to be a threat. A lot of people struggled with the handling of the car in April, but everyone has picked up a bunch since then. Tension is going to be high when we get to Martinsville with the Chase as close as it is. Anything can happen, so we're going to have to be careful. Martinsville is still going to be the same, so you'll have some beating and banging and a little bit of rubbing."
  • Last week: Bowyer realizes he needs some help if he is going to win the Chase, but he's certainly having an outstanding season. Bowyer finished second behind race-winner and Nextel Cup leader Jeff Gordon in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 and is third in the Chase, 78 points out of the lead. "It's very gratifying," said Bowyer, one of three drivers at Richard Childress Racing. "We're in our second year together. We've got five races to go and (need to) stay energized. Right now, that's what it is going to take a win a championship." The Kansan's fun demeanor wears well on Bowyer's Chase competitors. "He's incredible," Gordon said. "He is impressing a lot of people right now. When you are going to measure a driver's talent and ability you look at consistency to run on a lot of different tracks. He's very consistent with zero DNFs (Did Not Finish), and you have to be impressed with that. To me, the real key to being one of the top drivers is when the moment comes, are you capable of stepping it up? He's doing that and it's impressive."
  • Etc.: Bowyer also will race the Kevin Harvick Inc.-owned No. 2 Camping World Chevrolet Silverado in this weekend's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville. In six previous Truck Series starts, Bowyer has one win, two top-five finishes and three top-10s. In his most recent race driving for KHI, Bowyer started 32nd, was collected in a multi-truck incident and ultimately finished 35th in the New Hampshire 200.

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    4) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Stewart has two wins, including the spring 2006 race, six top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 17 previous Martinsville starts. Stewart has lost touch with the leaders of The Chase, trailing by 198 points with five races to go. "All we can do is just do our job," Stewart said. "Even if we win the race for the next seven weeks in a row, there is still no guarantee that we could close the gap. All we can do is worry about ourselves right now. It really takes the pressure off of us. All we can do is go for broke now. It's been done. Jimmie Johnson did it last year. So for us it's just a matter of not worrying about what everybody else is doing and just go out and worry about winning the races now and hoping we are where we need to be at the end of the day."
  • Last week: Stewart came from 28th on a lap 180 restart to come home seventh at Lowe's in a green-white-checkered finish that extended the race three laps past its scheduled 334-lap distance. "We couldn't have done it without the work of this race team," said Stewart, who claimed his 22nd top-10 finish of the season, good for second among full-time Nextel Cup drivers.
  • Etc.: Armor All will sponsor Stewart in the 2008 season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series (now known as Busch) race at Daytona and also will sponsor Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz in the 2008 World of Outlaws Sprint Series. The advertising campaign will feature Stewart in both television and print ads. It marks the first time it has used a race car driver in its advertising.

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    5) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Edwards is still looking for his first top-10 finish at Martinsville. His best finish in six previous starts there is 12th in this race last year. "Martinsville is a track that I've really had a tough time at over the years," Edwards said. "It's probably one of the toughest tracks for me in the Cup car, but I'm still really looking forward to the race. Track position is so important at Martinsville and in Car of Tomorrow races; if we can have a decent qualifying run in the Ford, I think we can race well there. We haven't had a good Cup race there yet, but we've got a great Car of Tomorrow program, so it should be good. A lot can happen in 500 laps, and at Martinsville things like pit strategy and tire management can make or break you. Hopefully things will fall into place and our team will continue to make strides toward the championship." Edwards is 240 points out of first place and will need a miracle to win the Nextel Cup.
  • Last week: Edwards was fifth under the lights at Charlotte. "That's great for us. We did not have a fifth-place car, so we're very fortunate to be fifth," he said. "... We got very lucky. I definitely had a good time tonight at the end. That's cool. We should have five-lap sprints like that all the time. It was a blast."
  • Etc.: Edwards will show his support for City of Hope by wearing a special fire suit and helmet in the Subway 500. Fans will be given an opportunity to bid on the fire suit and helmet in an online auction that will last through Nov. 5 and can be accessed by visiting http://stores.ebay.com/Roush-Racing-Memorabilia. City of Hope is a biomedical research and treatment facility in Duarte, Calif., that is dedicated to the prevention, treatment and cure of cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

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    6) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Busch has two top-five finishes and three top-10s in five Martinsville starts. His best finish was fourth last April. This weekend's race is one of two remaining Car of Tomorrow races in the Chase. "It don't matter," Busch said. "We've got a good enough program here at Hendrick Motorsports where we've run good in all the races. So I think our worst finishes have been due to either bad preparation on our part of being involved in a wreck. The only time that we ran bad was in Richmond, where we finished 20th." Busch is still alive mathematically in the points race but is 280 out of first.
  • Last week: Busch battled teammate Jeff Gordon at the end but finished third at Lowe's. "It wasn't bad," Busch said. "We had a pretty good car all night long. Just kept fighting a tight chatter through the center of the corner and got it a little bit freed up and got it a little bit too loose there but still kept it loose to keep it turning."
  • Etc.: Many thought Busch would pack it in after Hendrick Motorsports announced in June that he would not be retained by the team beyond this season, but he has been impressive despite his lame-duck status. "Joe Gibbs Racing is pretty excited to get me," Busch said of his new team. "Besides that, this is me. This is who I am. I just try to go out there and race a race car to the best of my ability week in and week out. ... It's tough to have to go through those rough times, but everybody does that sometimes."

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    7) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Kyle's older brother has one win (fall 2002), two top-five finishes and four top-10s in 14 Martinsville starts. "One of our biggest goals this season has been to put one of our Dodge Avenger COT cars into Victory Lane, and we think we have an excellent chance of doing that either at Martinsville this weekend or at Phoenix next month," Busch said. "The strength of our COT program is light years ahead of what it was when we raced at Martinsville back in the spring. This weekend's race will offer us another chance to showcase our progress and an opportunity to claim our first COT win for Penske Racing." ... Busch isn't giving up even though he is 315 points out of first place and doesn't have a legitimate shot at winning the title. "Most important to us now is to get all we can out of the final five races his year," he said. "We really have our intermediate track program dialed in now, and with three of the final five races being staged on that size track, we're hoping to knock off a couple more wins there before we're done for the year."
  • Last week: Busch had a strong top-five run going in the Lowe's event before late race engine problems dropped him to a 26th-place finish.
  • Etc.: Busch will drive the PSC-524 Dodge Avenger at Martinsville. It was raced for the first time last month at New Hampshire and hasn't been raced since. "We think it will be a great car for Martinsville," crew chief Pat Tryson said. "I don't know if you could call it our flat-track car or not, but it was certainly a strong car at Loudon before we had the problem with the carburetor. Kurt qualified third there and ran with the leaders through the first half of the race before the carburetor broke. We're really expecting big things out of the car this weekend at Martinsville."

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    8) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick, who is 328 points of the points lead, has gotten similar results at Martinsville -- no top-five finishes and four top-10s in 12 starts. He finished 41st there in April. "Martinsville is one of those tracks where you can be good all day long and have something go wrong at the end," he said. "You have to make the car roll through the tight corners, and keeping the brakes on the car the entire race is very important. Avoiding wrecks is another key to a successful day at Martinsville. It's a short track, and things happen in a hurry. If we can stay out of trouble, I think we have as good a chance as anyone. ... With the Car of Tomorrow coming in, it is going to throw a small monkey wrench into the whole deal, but I think, after our success at Bristol, we will be just fine."
  • Last week: Harvick had tire issues early in the Lowe's race and finished 33rd, seven laps down.
  • Etc.: Harvick will run in the Truck Series race at Martinsville. "Hopefully we can work something out on Saturday that will help us on Sunday," he said.

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    9) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: With the exception of being the site of Hamlin's first Cup career DNF (April '06), Martinsville has been one of his better tracks. In four Cup starts there, Hamlin has a pole and two top-five finishes. In April, Hamlin led 125 laps and was still in front when a pit road mishap just before the midway point dropped him to 10th. He battled back to finish third. Last fall, Hamlin had a memorable late race battle with Jimmie Johnson before finishing second. In the spring of 2006, Hamlin started 41st and had worked his way up to ninth before a cut tire forced him into the turn four wall and ultimately out the race. ... Hamlin ran Late Models at Martinsville from 2000 to 2004 -- he didn't win a race, but he won the pole in 2003. "That was a huge day for me," he said. "There were so many good drivers and good cars at Martinsville for those races, so to win a pole was really cool. I do consider this a home track of sorts because I grew up in Virginia and spent so much time there. The folks that run the track and the fans have been always been really supportive. It would be great to win for them, and the clock isn't bad, either. It's really flat, so you can't rely on banking to help get you through the turns. You have to be able to slow the car down, roll through the center and get back on throttle as soon as possible. It sounds easy, but you have do all of that for 500 laps with 42 other cars around you, all while saving your brakes and trying not to hit anything. That's what makes Martinsville a challenge. I think this is one of my better tracks because this is the kind of racing I know best from early on in my career, and it's still pretty fresh in my mind."
  • Last week: Hamlin was running fifth with only 12 laps left at Lowe's when his transmission failed, dropping him to the back of the pack and forcing him to finish the race with only fourth gear. What should have been a top-five ended in a 20th-place finish. Hamlin remains ninth in the Chase standings, 349 points out.
  • Etc.: Hamlin will make his 75th career Cup start Sunday. His career totals are three wins, five poles and 39 top-10s (52%).

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    10) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton has one win (fall 1997), nine top-five finishes and 13 top-10s in 26 Martinsville starts. He is 366 points out of the lead and will have to wait another year to win the Chase. "We have to do our job as if we still have a shot," he said. "You never know what can happen in any kind of sport, and this is certainly one of the more volatile sports. We have to continue to work hard. There is a sense, though, of getting ready for next year. There is a sense of making the most out of this year. Eighth in points is better than 12th and sixth is better than eighth. We still have goals we want to try to meet. We want to win races, but right now we're not looking real hard at the points situation."
  • Last week: Burton was an impressive fourth at Charlotte.
  • Etc.: Five members of Burton's team hail from Virginia. Burton was born and raised in South Boston. Gear specialist and fuel runner Curt Bowman calls Meadows of Dan his hometown. Transporter driver Franky Nester was born in Ridgeway and now resides in Stoneville. Other gear specialist Greg Meredeth was born and still resides in Fancy Gap, and tire specialist Tracey Ramsey is from Waynesboro.

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    11) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: In his three Cup starts at Martinsville, Truex has finished 19th, 36th and 29th. "I haven't figured that place out yet," he admitted. "For me, it's been the brakes. I've had trouble with my brakes every time I've been there, and that's really hurt us. So hopefully we'll get it figured out this time."
  • Last week: Truex blamed himself for not contending for a top-10 finish during the green-white-checkered finish at Lowe's. "Bono (crew chief Kevin Manion) told me to come down pit road (during the yellow flag on lap 329) and I didn't," said Truex, who ended up 17th. "I don't know what I was thinking. It was my mistake, and I told him I owed him one." Truex dropped to 11th in the standings and trails leader Jeff Gordon by a whopping 378 points.
  • Etc.: Things have not gone well for Truex in his first championship Chase. "Maybe we'll be able to turn things around at a place (Martinsville) where we haven't had a ton of success," he said. "That would be poetic justice. The team deserves a good finish, and I'd love to give them one." Truex has finished fifth, 13th, 38th, 42nd, and 17th in the first five Chase races.

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    12) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: When Kenseth finished 10th in the spring race at Martinsville, it was only his fourth top-10 finish in 15 starts at the track. But the car he will be racing this weekend has four top-10 finishes in five starts. "We feel pretty confident in the COT we're taking this weekend," said crew chief Robbie Reiser. "Martinsville is all about how good we can get the car to turn in the center (of the corner). You also have to have a good brake package."
  • Last week: Kenseth's run of bad luck continued at Charlotte. After leading three different times for 32 laps, he encountered major handling problems, spun once and then hit the wall on another occasion as he limped home in 34th place. In the last four Chase events, he has finished 35th, 35th, 26th and 34th, and he trails leader Jeff Gordon by an almost insurmountable 442 points.
  • Etc.: Kenseth admitted he felt "like an idiot out there" Saturday at Charlotte. "I would get so loose in the corner I could hardly hang onto it. I have absolutely no excuse. I wrecked twice and it seems like we've wrecked for a month straight, so I really want to apologize to my fans. I really feel bad for these guys (that work on his car). I really let them down."

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    13) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Earnhardt led a race-high 137 laps in the spring before ending up fifth for his second top-five finish in the last three races at Martinsville. He has seven top-five finishes in 15 starts at the track, but he is still looking for his first win there. "We've had a lot of really good days, but we've never been able to close the deal," said Earnhardt. "I'd be happy to trade all of those laps led and those top-fives and all of the Martinsville hot dogs I've eaten in the past for a win there this week."
  • Last week: After running as high as fourth early in the race, Earnhardt began experiencing major handling problems and struggled the rest of the evening as he finished 19th. "The car was just never right," said Earnhardt. "Going into the corner, the nose of the car would slide up the track. I know the crew tried everything they could, but sometimes you have one of those races where you can't hit on the sweet spot."
  • Etc.: "Martinsville is a place where I think I've improved as much or more than at any other track since I joined the Cup Series," Earnhardt said. "Our first few races there, it was like a circus. We were flying through the air and smashing into about everything. It's funny now, but at the time it was agonizing and frustrating."

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    14) Casey Mears, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: When Mears finished sixth last fall at Martinsville, it was his first top-10 at the short track. He finished 42nd in the spring event. "While I haven't had a lot of luck at Martinsville, it has been a real good track for Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon), so we know that the Hendrick cars run well there," said Mears. "Hopefully I will join that list this weekend."
  • Last week: Mears fought back from a mid-race accident to finish 21st at Charlotte. Mears clipped the wall on lap 181, and eight laps later the right front tire went down, sending him into Bill Elliott and the third-turn wall. "We fought a tight-handling car throughout most of the race," said Mears. "Then when we got into the wall and had so much damage, our night was kind of shot."
  • Etc.: Mears will be moving to the 5 team in 2008, but he wants to finish this season with the 25 team on a high note. "Obviously, the focus for the remainder of this year is to win more races before the year is out, doing as good as we can for the team for the remainder of this season," said Mears.

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    15) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: After five straight top-10 finishes at Martinsville, including four top-fives, Newman has finished outside the top 10 in the last three races there. "I've never won at Martinsville, but I've had some good runs there," said Newman. "We've got a good COT program at Penske, so I think we have a good shot at getting another good finish this weekend."
  • Last week: With five laps to go at Lowe's, Newman made a bold move to grab the lead and seemed headed for his first win of the season. But two laps later, he cut a left rear tire and hit the wall, ending his day. Newman finished a disappointing 28th. "I felt it pop," said Newman. "We had a great car, just an unfortunate (ending)."
  • Etc.: Newman will be racing the same car this weekend that he ran last month at New Hampshire. In the race at Loudon, he qualified fifth and finished ninth. "We have high hopes for this car this weekend," said Newman.

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    16) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Biffle said it best -- "I don't have a very good history at Martinsville." How right he is. In nine starts at the track, his best finish is 17th. "We seem to have a lot of brake trouble there and just bad luck in general," adds Biffle. "The guys are doing a few things to try to make sure we don't have the same brake problems we had in the spring."
  • Last week: An ill-timed caution flag ended any hopes Biffle had of finishing in the top 15 at Charlotte, and he ended up 27th. He lost two laps when a caution came out three laps after he had made a scheduled pit stop. Biffle was never able to get those laps back. "It just wasn't our night," he said. "It just got loose early in the race, and we couldn't get it right from that point on."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Greg Erwin said Biffle will be driving the same car the team used at New Hampshire last month. "We felt like we made progress with it there," Erwin said. "We've been working with the engineering department and the seven-post information to continue to better our COT program, so we'll see what we can do this weekend."

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    17) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte has finished fourth and third in the last two fall races at Martinsville. His victory at the track came on April 14, 2002. Petty Enterprises has a record 19 wins at the short track. "You don't think about Petty Enterprises without thinking about Martinsville and Richard Petty," said Labonte. "Richard won a lot of races in his career, but he really knew how to win at Martinsville. It would be great to put the 43 back in Victory Lane at Martinsville."
  • Last week: Labonte ran in the top 10 for most of the race and was running eighth when he pitted with five laps remaining. "I thought I had a flat (tire)," said Labonte. "I was on pit road and the caution came out. That put us all the way back at the back." But he was able to rally during the green-white-checkered finish to end up 12th. "It's disappointing because we had a car capable of finishing in the top five," said Labonte.
  • Etc.: Labonte believes the team is going to finish the season on a high note. "Talladega was our best plate car (of the year)," he said. "Lowe's was a good intermediate car, and there is a lot of optimism heading to Martinsville. If you can put good cars on the track, good things are going to happen."

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    18) J.J. Yeley, No. 18 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Yeley's best finish in three Cup starts at Martinsville is 20th. "I've learned a bunch from the first time I was there," he said. "You really have to let the car roll and get it turned and work on forward bite. Hopefully, what we've learned will help us stay near the front to give us the opportunity to try to win."
  • Last week: Yeley rallied during the second half of the Charlotte event to finish 13th. "We struggled with the car being tight in the center (of the corner), and I couldn't get the car to roll (through the turns) like I wanted it to," said Yeley. "To battle back in a backup car (after crashing Thursday during qualifying), get down a lap on two separate occasions and still end up 13th is pretty darn good."
  • Etc.: In the last six races, Yeley has earned the 11th-most points among all drivers and has accumulated more points than five Chase drivers -- Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth.

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    19) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: McMurray has six top-10 finishes in nine starts at Martinsville, including three in the last four races. "Martinsville is one of those places as a driver that you either really like racing at or don't like visiting there at all," said McMurray. He qualified second in the spring race and finished ninth.
  • Last week: McMurray led twice for 27 laps, but his visions of a second win at Lowe's ended on lap 280 when a caution flag came out just two laps after McMurray had made what was supposed to be his final pit stop. The ill-timed yellow flag dropped McMurray two laps back of the leaders. "We had one of the strongest cars out there, but the luck didn't fall our way," said McMurray, who ended up 24th.
  • Etc.: Crew chief Larry Carter knows what it takes to win at Martinsville -- he was the winning crew chief in 2005 when Rusty Wallace won his last Cup race at the .525-mile track. "It was an exciting race and one that I will always remember as a crew chief," said Carter. "This weekend, I know we are taking a strong car."

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    20) Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge, Gillett Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Kahne finished seventh in last year's Subway 500 at Martinsville for his second top-10 finish in seven starts at the track. "I like racing at Martinsville," said Kahne. "After you learn how to race there, it's been a lot of fun. I've had some good finishes and few disappointments. Racing on a short track, you'll have disappointments."
  • Last week: Kahne finished eighth at Charlotte, his fifth top-10 finish in the last eight races, and moved into 20th place in the standings, the highest he has been all year. "Our car was better on long runs, but we really didn't get the opportunity to show it because of the number of cautions," he said. "It's a top-10, so we'll take it and move forward."
  • Etc.: Kahne said the team's goal in the last five races is to "get a win and put together some top-five finishes. We have some good tracks coming up for our Dodge Dealers team. We've made progress with the COT and have found some consistency. Now we need to take the next step and visit Victory Lane."

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    21) Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Montoya finished 16th in his first Nextel Cup start at Martinsville. After only two top-20 finishes in the last seven races, Montoya would be delighted with another 16th-place finish this weekend. "Our luck hasn't been too good in recent weeks," said Montoya. "We would like to finish the season on a high note."
  • Last week: It was a long night for Montoya at Lowe's -- he struggled all evening before a right front tire went flat on lap 280, sending him into Scott Riggs and then into the wall. Montoya finished 37th to drop out of the top 20. "We got knocked into the wall early in the race, and that pretty much put us behind from the get-go," said crew chief Donnie Wingo.
  • Etc.: When Montoya was asked if his success in NASCAR is the reason other road-racing stars like Dario Franchitti and Jacques Villenuve have decided to try stock car racing, he replied, "I think it is great that people think that. I have been able to drive a lot of different cars and be successful, but at the same time Dario (his future teammate) has done as well."

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    22) David Ragan, No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: In two Cup races at Martinsville, Ragan's best finish is 15th. "I believe the first time I raced at Martinsville in the Cup cars (last fall), I was referred to as a dart with no feathers, so I am hoping that I have at least sprouted a few by now," Ragan said. "We've had a rough couple of weeks, so we definitely need to redeem ourselves, and I think this weekend will be a good weekend for it."
  • Last week: Ragan's hopes for a good run ended early when he and Reed Sorenson tangled on lap 21, Ragan slamming hard into the frontstretch wall. "I guess the 41 had a good run on the outside," said Ragan, who ended up 40th. "I didn't know he was there and just pinched him up into the wall."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Jimmy Fennig points out "the last short track race that we ran was Richmond, where David finished third, so I think we are all looking forward to Martinsville this weekend. We would really like to bring home another top-five or top-10."

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    25) Mark Martin, No. 01 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Martin will take the weekend off and turn the driving duties over to rookie Aric Almirola, who will be making his Cup debut at the short track. "I was always fascinated with (watching) the Martinsville races," said Almirola. "Short, flat tracks are what I grew up on, and it was a learning experience to watch the pros braking and then maneuvering through the tight corners."
  • Last week: Martin finished 16th at Charlotte and said it was a "rough night. Basically, we had about a 15th-place car." He thought he might be able to finish a little higher. "I had a good run on the 84 (A. J. Allmendinger) on the final restart, and it looked like we were going to get a good finish," said Martin. "But he was able to close the door on me pretty quickly, and I picked up some damage to the fender. After that we just had to take it home the best we could."
  • Etc.: Almirola did run two Truck races at Martinsville and had finishes of 18th and 16th. "The veterans will say that this is one of the hardest tracks, and I don't disagree," said the rookie driver. "I had fun racing there in the trucks, and it is comforting to know that I am not going into the Martinsville Cup race without any prior experience."

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    32) Dave Blaney, No. 22 Toyota, Bill Davis Racing
  • This week: Blaney is still looking for his first top-10 finish at Martinsville. In 13 starts at the short track, his best finish is 16th. Blaney will be racing the same car that the team utilized in both races at Richmond and at Darlington earlier this season. "Hopefully we can keep the momentum going (after two consecutive top-10 finishes) throughout the rest of the season and can stay in the top 35 (in owner points)," said Blaney. Cars outside the top 35 must qualify for each race.
  • Last week: Blaney finished sixth at Charlotte for his second consecutive top-10 finish. "We're not doing anything different. Our team is doing the same things they were doing before, but now we're getting results," said Blaney. "Things had to average out eventually. We had a lot of strong runs early in the season and didn't have the finishes to back up those runs."
  • Etc.: "It's been a pretty good couple of weeks for this Caterpillar Racing team," said Blaney. "We've made some good progress in the top-35 fight (moving to 34th in the owner standings) and can breathe a little easier now. We felt like it was just a matter of time (before he started getting the finishes he felt the team deserved)."

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    46) Michael Waltrip, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
  • This week: Waltrip has only five top-10 finishes in 42 starts at Martinsville, and he has none in his last 13 events at the short track. "My expectations (for this weekend) have to be somewhat reserved," he admitted. "I have some concerns. I haven't made a flat-track race all year."
  • Last week: Waltrip matched his season-best finish with a 10th-place run at Lowe's. His only other top-10 finish came at Michigan in June. "It's a good thing they're not drawing a picture by our day today because it wouldn't have been pretty," said Waltrip. "We never could seem to get it (the chassis) quite right. But there toward the end of the race I ran the top groove and we were able to run solid lap times up top and get a better finish."
  • Etc.: Waltrip announced last week that Robert Kauffman has become an "equal ownership partner" in a newly formed company -- Michael Waltrip Racing Holdings, LLC. Waltrip also announced that David Reutimann would take over the driving duties of the No. 44 UPS car after Dale Jarrett retires in early 2008. Jarrett will run the first five races of the season as well as the All-Star event.

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    Tagged: Bill Elliott, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Reutimann, Jimmie Johnson, David Ragan, Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Aric Almirola, Dario Franchitti, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Reed Sorenson, Dave Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Casey Mears, Dale Jarrett, Scott Riggs, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr.

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