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CUP: Five Questions, Martinsville

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tackles its shortest, and one of its most challenging, tracks today with the running of the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at the 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

Following are five questions that will be key to the outcome of this race. For more on these and other pre-race topics, tune into NASCAR RaceDay Fueled By Sunoco at 10 a.m. ET on SPEED.

1. Tony Stewart has won 7 of the last 15 Cup races. Can his momentum continue? — Stewart’s remarkable championship run caught fire last October at Martinsville, where he made a bold, late-race pass of Jimmie Johnson on the outside lane to win. Anyone who counts Stewart out at any track does so at his or her risk. He’ll start 15th today.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. nearly won here a year ago. Is this the week he finally breaks on through? — As every Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan knows, it’s been 134 long races since Junior has visited Victory Lane. He’d like nothing better than to give Rick Hendrick his 200th career Sprint Cup victory here today. And if he’s in the lead in the closing laps again this year, he’ll be more aggressive this time out.

3. Can Denny Hamlin rebound from disappointment in California to win again at Martinsville? — In a word, yes. In his last 11 Martinsville starts, Hamlin has four victories and nine top-five finishes. With all due respect to the front row of Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick, as well as perennial favorite Jimmie Johnson, Hamlin remains the man to beat here. He qualified third and will have a great shot at winning again.

4. Will Jeff Gordon start to dig himself out of a huge points hole? — After being fastest in both practices, Gordon qualified a disappointing ninth. But he ought to do just fine today. There’s a reason he has seven victories at Martinsville, although he’ll have plenty of competition.

5. Can points leader Greg Biffle do OK at what is arguably his worst track? — Although the Biff professed to be happy with his car in race trim, he’ll start today’s race way back in 26th place, where bad things often happen. Truth is, none of the three Roush Fenway Racing Fords were especially fast in either of the practices or qualifying.

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.