Published January 13, 2015
Martinsville, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - After competing at its biggest racetrack, Talladega Superspeedway, last weekend, the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship has moved on to the smallest track on the schedule, Martinsville Speedway.
Sunday's 500-lap race at Martinsville -- 0.526-mile in length -- is the only short-track event in the Chase. It's also the one track that current points leader Jimmie Johnson looks forward to the most during the 10-race playoffs.
Johnson's 13th-place finish compared to a 20th-place run for Matt Kenseth at Talladega allowed Johnson to take a four-point lead over Kenseth.
It's the first time Johnson has led in the Chase point standings this year. Kenseth had been atop the rankings for the first five Chase races. Johnson is attempting to win his sixth Sprint Cup Series championship.
"When we're leading in points, it's certainly helpful," Johnson said. "It's a place where I'd rather be, in the lead defending, than trying to get points and get ahead. I like the position that we're in.
"In years past, the pressure has weighed on me differently. I think through the experience of winning those five (series championships) and being in the sport as long as I have been, that I'm really in a position that I want to be in, and I hope to stay here for the rest of the year."
Johnson has started on the pole and won the past two races at Martinsville. In April, he led 346 of 500 laps. Johnson ran in front for 193 laps in last year's Chase event here.
In 23 races at Martinsville, Johnson has scored eight wins, 16 top-five finishes, 20 top-10s and three poles. His average finish of 5.348 is tops among all active drivers at this track.
Johnson has won three consecutive races at Martinsville in the past. He claimed the victory in the October 2006 event and then scored a season-sweep here in 2007.
"It's been good to us in the past," he said. "We've got to go there and race. There is going to be a lot of strong competition. We will make sure we get buttoned up and ready to go for this weekend's race and go up there to that paperclip and see what we can do."
Every Chase-era champion has finished among the top-10 in the fall race at Martinsville. Brad Keselowski's sixth-place finish here one year ago is the worst by the champion. Tony Stewart won at this track en route to his third series title in 2011.
Kenseth has struggled at Martinsville in the past, recording just three top- five finishes and eight top-10s in 27 races. His best finish here is second, which came in the spring of 2002. He has finished 14th in the previous two events at this track.
After Martinsville, the Chase heads to Texas (1.5-mile track) and then Phoenix (1-mile) before the season concludes at Homestead (also 1.5-mile).
This is Kenseth's first season as driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, and four of his series-leading seven wins this year have come at mile and a halfs.
"I think I have one of the greatest teams out here, obviously, and I feel like we can go everywhere else, and honestly, we can race with anybody when we're at our best," Kenseth said. "Hopefully, we'll be at our best the next four (races), and we'll give them a run for their money."
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are both 26 points behind Johnson, while Jeff Gordon, a four-time series champion and seven-time Martinsville race winner, trails his Hendrick Motorsports teammate by 34 points.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is sixth in Chase points (-52), followed by Greg Biffle (-53), Clint Bowyer (-57) and Kurt Busch (-61).
Tenth through 13th are: Carl Edwards (-68), Ryan Newman (-72), Joey Logano (-75) and Kasey Kahne (-101).
Chevrolet can clinch its 11th consecutive and 37th overall Manufacturers' Championship in NASCAR's top series this weekend at Martinsville. If the top- finishing driver for Chevrolet finishes ahead of the top-placing driver for Toyota, then Chevrolet will secure the title in the first year of the Gen-6 race car.
Aric Almirola will run the No. 41 Ford at Martinsville, rather than his customary No. 43, in honor of NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Maurice Petty, the chief engine builder for Petty Enterprises during its seven championships. Petty ran nine of his 26 career Cup races in the No. 41.
Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Oct. 27. Race: Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500. Site: Martinsville Speedway. Track: 0.526-mile oval. Start time: 1:30 p.m. ET. Laps: 500. Miles: 263. 2012 Winner: Jimmie Johnson. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.