Baby steps for Martin, Newman and Earnhardt

Updated: April 6, 2009, 12:30 PM ET

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) avoided trouble when Scott Speed got turned around in Turn 3 at Martinsville.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were all but given up for dead as far as making the Chase a month ago. They were buried in the Sprint Cup point standings, experiencing the kind of misfortune that leads to bad seasons.

Well, guess what?

They're anything but dead.

Martin finished seventh in Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway, his second consecutive top-10 after three straight finishes of 31st or worse. He moved up four spots to 27th in points, a jump of eight positions in two weeks.

Newman finished sixth for his second straight top-10. He jumped nine spots in the standings to 18th, only 79 points out of the 12th and final spot for NASCAR's playoff. It was a great day for Stewart-Haas Racing in general as owner Tony Stewart finished third to stay seventh in the standings.

And then there was Earnhardt. He finished a season-best eighth to give him four straight runs of 14th or better. He moved up three spots to 16th in points and only 44 out of the Chase.

That's the good news. The bad news is none led a lap, meaning they weren't in contention for the victory unless winner Jimmie Johnson or runner-up Denny Hamlin wrecked.

But they're making the kind of baby steps necessary to potentially be a factor over the final 10 races.

"That is what we are looking at right now,'' said Earnhardt, who finished with a bungee cord holding his transmission in gear. "It seems like every race we go to we are about five spots off of where we were last year, and I don't know why that is and it's very frustrating. But we are working hard."

Earnhardt's finish capped a week in which his relationship with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. received a vote of confidence from team owner Rick Hendrick, a week in which he met with top Hendrick Motorsports officials for three hours on Wednesday trying to figure out a way to turn things around.

"We talked about a lot of little stuff we could do differently or try,'' Earnhardt said. "We looked at some of the methods and some of the ways that they have had success in the past, and we just talked about some ways we could communicate better.

"One of the things that we were working really hard on is trying to communicate at the racetrack and on the radio better. So me and Tony Jr. are real conscious of that and are just trying to do a better job each week. And I think that we are.''

Newman isn't under the public and media scrutiny that Earnhardt is, but that doesn't mean he feels any less pressure to turn his program around. He certainly didn't waste an opportunity to pass Earnhardt and Martin on the final lap.

"We had to,'' said Newman, who began the season with four finishes of 22nd or worse. "I was in position to do it and I did. We put ourselves in that position, made the moves and it worked. We're progressively getting better. There's something to be said for that. We had two Stewart-Haas cars finish in the top 10 today -- hopefully that's a sign of things to come.''

Not everybody moved forward. Greg Biffle, who was fourth in points after three races and only 40 points out of first place, fell five spots to 23rd with Sunday's 28th-place finish.

Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards slipped three spots to eighth in the standings with a 26th-place showing. It kept last year's win leader (nine) winless.

If either is discouraged they should talk to Martin, Newman and Earnhardt about how to stay positive.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

Camping World Truck Series: Harvick makes move on Busch

After staring at Kyle Busch's rear bumper for 67 laps, Kevin Harvick knew it was time to make a move.

Harvick dropped to the inside of Busch, passed him with just more than nine laps to go and held on through an abbreviated final restart to win the rain-delayed and caution-filled trucks race Monday before a very sparse crowd at Martinsville Speedway.

"Every lap, the pressure just needed to go up a little bit more and a little bit more," Harvick said of Busch, who had led for 139 laps. "I was able to get to his bumper there and get him up about a half a groove, and I got up under him. … I didn't want to wreck him, but I knew it was time to start applying the pressure pretty heavily."

Harvick's pass came after one failed attempt to take the lead and several laps running his Chevrolet right on the bumper of Busch's Toyota at the Kroger 250 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Once he got to the inside, the two dueled side by side to the flag stand.

After a crash brought out the 13th of 14 cautions, Harvick outran Ron Hornaday Jr. on the restart on Lap 249 until another crash allowed him to coast to the victory under a caution.

In all, 14 yellow flags slowed the pace for 80 laps.

Even before the last caution, Harvick said, he felt comfortable as Hornaday's boss that the driver with a reputation for being aggressive when fighting for a lead would behave.

"I knew in that situation he knew he wasn't losing anything," Harvick said of the Truck series regular. "Obviously, he wants to win, but he wasn't losing anything by having me in front of him. He had all the competitors pointswise that he needed behind him."

The victory was the fourth for Harvick in 97 Truck series starts, and Hornaday joked that Harvick is wrong to think the employer-employee relationship carries onto the track.

"I didn't care who it was" up front, Hornaday said. "I was too busy watching [Mike] Skinner lay back on me, so I looked in the mirror to see how far back he was, and Kevin took off."

Skinner finished third, followed by Johnny Benson and Rick Crawford.

"I was waiting for [Harvick and Busch] to wreck each other, and then you and I were going to have some old times," Skinner told Hornaday after the race. "We were going to have some fun."

Busch, the series points leader entering the race, was forced to pit after losing the lead when he drove over the line that obligates a driver to visit pit road. He finished 17th.

Clearly unhappy with NASCAR's ruling, made after Busch crossed the line while trying to use the inside wall to stop a fender from rubbing his left-front tire, Busch climbed from his truck, ran down pit road and climbed over the outside wall and out of the track.

Busch, who won two of the first three races, remained the points leader by 38 over Todd Bodine, who ran in the top 10 for most of the day but crashed twice late and finished 18th.

The event, rained out Saturday, attracted only a few thousand fans.

"The biggest fun was when you walk down the hill from the motor home and see all the big haulers leave with all the souvenirs and still see these fans sitting in the stands to watch us race," Hornaday said. "If it wasn't for the fans, we wouldn't be able to do this."

-- The Associated Press


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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson

  • Jimmie Johnson won the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
  • Johnson became the fourth different race winner in 2009. Matt Kenseth won the first two races (Daytona and California). Kyle Busch won at Las Vegas and Bristol, and Kurt Busch won at Atlanta.
  • Johnson, who started ninth Sunday, posted his 41st career Cup victory in 261 races. This was his fourth top-10 finish in six races this season. He remained 15th on NASCAR's all-time win list.
  • Johnson scored his sixth Martinsville victory in 15 races, including five of the past six races. He has scored top-10 finishes in the past 14 races at Martinsville, the longest current streak.
  • Johnson posted his ninth victory in 44 races on the three short tracks (Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond). Six came at Martinsvile and three came at Richmond. He has never won at Bristol. He has scored 25 top-10s in 44 races on short tracks (57 percent).
  • Johnson climbed from ninth to fourth in the point standings, the second week in 2009 that Johnson has been among the top 12. Johnson began the season ranked 31st after Daytona.
  • Chad Knaus posted his 39th victory in his 282 Cup race as a crew chief. All 39 of his crew chief victories have come with Johnson.
  • This is the 46th win by a Chevrolet in a Cup race at Martinsville.
  • Hendrick Motorsports scored its 18th Martinsville victory, and 176th victory overall.
  • All four Hendrick cars finished in the top 10: Johnson, first; Jeff Gordon, fourth; Mark Martin, seventh; Dale Earnhardt Jr., eighth.
  • Hendrick Motorsports celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first win at Martinsville. Geoffrey Bodine scored Hendrick's first win at Martinsville in April 1984.
  • Johnson led twice for 42 laps in Sunday's race, including the final 16 laps. He has led 1,216 of the last 3,510 laps raced in the past seven races at Martinsville (35 percent). He won five of those seven races.
  • Denny Hamlin (second) scored his second straight top-10 finish. It marked his third top-10 finish in 2009.
  • Tony Stewart (third) scored his best finish in 2009. It was his fourth top-10 in six races in 2009.
  • Johnson teammate Gordon (fourth) has scored top-10 finishes in the past 13 races at Martinsville. Gordon has scored nine straight top-5s at Martinsville, the longest current streak. He has been running at the finish in all 33 of his races at Martinsville.
  • Gordon leads the Cup point standings, by 89 over second-place Clint Bowyer. The four-time champ posted his sixth top-15 finish in 2009, the only driver to do so. He also extended his winless streak to 47 races, since October 2007 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
  • Gordon climbed to fifth all time in laps led at Martinsville with 2,760, trailing leader Cale Yarborough (3,851), Rusty Wallace (3,632), Darrell Waltrip (3,616) and Richard Petty (2,964).
  • Clint Bowyer (fifth) extended a 79-race streak of running at the finish that began at Homestead in November 2006. Bowyer's last DNF came at Phoenix on Nov. 12, 2006, when he finished 33rd due to oil-pump failure.
  • Joey Logano (32nd) was the highest-finishing rookie contender among the two rookies in the race. Scott Speed finished 39th.
  • The top 10 consisted of seven Chevrolets, one Ford, one Dodge and one Toyota.

Camping World Truck Series

Kevin Harvick

Harvick

  • Kevin Harvick won the Kroger 250 on Monday at Martinsville Speedway. It was his fourth series victory in his 97th race. His last victory came at Phoenix in November 2008.
  • Harvick scored his first Truck series victory at Martinsville in his eighth race. It is his first series win at a track other than Phoenix.
  • Chevrolet posted its seventh Truck series win at Martinsville and first since Bobby Labonte won there in 2005.
  • Kevin Harvick Inc. scored its 16th series victory and its first at Martinsville.
  • Harvick, who started sixth, became the third winner in the four races of 2009. He led only once. It was the 14th race at Martinsville, including the past four, when the race winner led only once.
  • Ron Hornaday finished second. Monday's race was the third career 1-2 finish for KHI.
  • Kyle Busch was running second with four laps to go but was penalized for a commitment-line violation after trying to fix his fender by rubbing up against the inside wall on the backstretch. Busch finished 17th.
  • Both Busch and Todd Bodine (18th) ended streaks of finishing in the top 10. Busch had finished in the top 10 in his previous 15 starts. Bodine had finished in the top 10 in his previous nine starts.
  • Four drivers made their series debut: Ryan Sieg (34th), Mikey Kile (12th), Dillon Oliver (30th) and Brett Butler (26th).
  • James Buescher (11th) was the highest-finishing rookie contender among the six rookies in the race.
  • The top 10 consisted of four Toyotas, five Chevrolets and one Ford. The best Dodge finished 23rd.

-- Racing Resources