Drivers to watch
Check out a short list of favorites for Sunday's Advance Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville Speedway:
Is atop the points standings for the second time in his career after finishing sixth in the Samsung/RadioShack 500 two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway; has three straight top-10 finishes and five in seven starts this season; is 19 points ahead of 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth; was 10th at Martinsville in the spring 2002 and led 111 laps en route to victory in the Old Dominion 500 that October; but has been 28th or worse in his other five starts here.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.:
Has been among the top 10 in the standings for 40 straight weeks; has been among the top 5 in his last four starts at Martinsville; has led 41 or more laps in three of his last four times at Martinsville and was fourth here last October 19; is featured in the April 12 issue of People Magazine in a section called "The Time of May Life," mentioning his Daytona 500 victory in February; was fourth two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway for his fifth top-10 showing of the year.
Returns to the top 10 in the standings as he climbed up three spots to ninth following a third-place finish at Texas two weeks ago; last season became the first driver since Rusty Wallace in 1994 to sweep both races at Martinsville; won both times from the pole, becoming the first driver to do so since Fred Lorenzen in 1964; led 313 of 500 laps in last October's race; has 16 top-10 finishes in 22 career starts at Martinsville; four of his 64 career victories have come here.
Has only one top-10 finish in five career starts at Martinsville, but was discovered by team owner Richard Childress while driving in the NASCAR Crastsman truck series; "I made a few moves that (Childress) thought were pretty gutsy - mostly I was beating up on another driver. I wasn't shooting for it, but it turned his head in my direction. For that, Martinsville will always be special. I didn't know it for a while, but my life completely changed for the better at that race." his best finish at Martinsville came last October, when he was seventh; had consecutive top-10 finishes before placing 13th at Texas to drop one spot to eighth in the standings.
Has been sixth in the standings after each of the last three races; has finished among the top 10 in three of four career starts at Martinsville; last October he recorded his best short-track result here as he was second, one second behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon; "The tracks are so flat that you can't be very aggressive in the car," Johnson said about Martinsville. "There's limited grip and it well below where I wanted it to be. Once I realized to slow down and drive it within its means, I've been successful and had fast laps and good finishes."
The top rookie on the Nextel circuit moved up four spots in the standings to seventh after he was just edged out by Elliott Sadler two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speeedway; it was his third runner-up finish of the season; has been in the top 10 in three of the last four races, with an accident causing him to place 40th at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 28; has two poles this season and his average start of 7.43 is third among Nextel drivers; tested at Martinsville with Evernham Motorsports teammate Jeremy Mayfield in March.
Falls from the stop spot in the standings after finishing 16th at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago; is 19 points behind Busch and has been among the top 10 in the standings ffor 42 consecutive weeks, dating to last season; has two top-10 finishes in eight career starts at Martinsville, with both coming in the spring event.
Held off charging Kasey Kahne two weeks ago to record his second career victory in the Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway; the victory vaulted him four spots in the standings fifth, just four points behind Tony Stewart; his only other victory came at Bristol in 2001, when he drove for Wood Brothers Racing; "I feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that we got that first win under our belts," Sadler said. "You might see a whole new Elliot Sadler behind the wheel." the Emporia, Virginia native has been among the top 20 in only two of his 10 starts at Martinsville.
Is one of four drivers who have been ranked among the top 10 each week this season; won the spring 2000 race here, when he had a track-record qualifying time of 19.855 seconds at 95.371 mph; In the six races at Martinsville since, Stewart has four top-10 finishes; has led at Martinsville in each of his last four appearances.
Owned this track between 1994 and 1996 when he won five of seven races; also comes off two strong performances as he was second in the Food City 500 and fifth two weeks ago at Texas; moved up six spots in the standings to 11th, just nine points behind Ryan Newman; had been among the top 10 in the standings in 10 straight years until finishing 14th in 2003; has gone a career-high 105 races without a victory.