NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

 
            === Martinsville begins the final four in the Chase ===
 
 Philadelphia,  PA (Sports Network) - It's final four time in the Chase for the
 Sprint Cup championship.
 
 Sunday's  race  at Martinsville Speedway is  not only the seventh round in the
 10-race  Chase but the only short-track event in the postseason as well. Texas
 (Nov. 4), Phoenix (Nov. 11) and Homestead (Nov. 18) follow Martinsville.
 
 Last weekend, Chase leaders Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson survived a wild
 race  at the newly repaved Kansas Speedway. Keselowski avoided one crash after
 another  during the  400-mile event  to finish  eighth and  remain the  points
 leader.  Johnson wrecked midway through the race but miraculously bounced back
 with  a  ninth-place run  to keep the  second spot in  the Chase rankings. The
 point separation between the two remained at seven. Denny Hamlin finished 13th
 at Kansas and fell 20 markers behind.
 
 "It's  pressure  time; it's go time,"  Johnson said. "It's all that stuff with
 four  to go. With the  points as tight as they are, we expect to be one of the
 cars racing for the win."
 
 Johnson,  who is  seeking his sixth Sprint Cup Series championship, has yet to
 win  a  race in this  year's Chase.  He started the  postseason with a pair of
 second-place  finishes  -- Chicagoland  and  New  Hampshire. He  placed  third
 earlier this month at Charlotte.
 
 "If  we can  get points on the  11 (Hamlin) and the 2 (Keselowski), especially
 the  2 at  this point, that would  be ideal," Johnson noted. "So we're showing
 up, racing hard, putting in everything we have got, which is to be expected by
 everybody at this point, and we'll see how things turn out."
 
 Clint  Bowyer is  currently 25  points  behind Keselowski,  while Kasey  Kahne
 trails by 30.
 
 Sixth  through  12th in the Chase  standings are: Martin Truex Jr. (-43), Tony
 Stewart  (-47),  Jeff Gordon  (-51), Matt Kenseth  (-55), Kevin Harvick (-59),
 Greg Biffle (-62) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-122).
 
 Earnhardt  Jr.  will return  to competition at  Martinsville after missing the
 past  two races  due to  a concussion.  He was  medically cleared  on Tuesday,
 following numerous neuropsychological evaluations, including a successful test
 session at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.
 
 The  points  leader after the sixth  race in the Chase  has gone on to win the
 series  championship  five of  eight times.  Last year,  Stewart was 19 points
 behind leader Carl Edwards after the sixth Chase event, but Stewart went on to
 win at Martinsville, Texas and Homestead to claim the title.
 
 Statistically, Johnson, Hamlin and Gordon have the upper hand at Martinsville.
 All  three  drivers have  combined for  17 wins there,  including seven in the
 Chase (2004-10).
 
 In  21 races  at Martinsville, Johnson has  an average finish of 5.8, which is
 tops among active drivers. He has won six times at this track but has not been
 to victory lane there since March 2009. He finished second at Martinsville one
 year ago and 12th there in April.
 
 Hamlin  has an average  finish of 6.4 in 14 races at Martinsville. He has four
 victories there, including three in a row from 2009-10. Hamlin placed fifth at
 Martinsville in last year's Chase race and then sixth there earlier this year.
 
 "The spring race is the one race where we did just not run well," Hamlin said.
 "We  had some  setup issues  that we  found in  the car  afterwards, and  some
 mistakes  that we  made with our setup. Basically, putting the wrong pieces in
 the  wrong places. So, that is hopefully why we ran so bad in the spring where
 we  finished  decent but not  great. Hopefully, that's rectified. Honestly, we
 look  forward to going back, especially as good as our short track program has
 been in the last few (races)."
 
 Gordon leads all active drivers with seven wins at Martinsville, but the four-
 time  series champion  has not  posted a  victory there  since Oct.  2005. His
 average finish in 39 starts at this track is not too shabby -- 7.1.
 
 "Martinsville  is just that kind of place where you get into a rhythm," Gordon
 said. "And it's important when you get into traffic to maintain that rhythm or
 get  back into it as fast as you possibly can. No other track demands the kind
 of rhythm needed at Martinsville."
 
 For  Keselowski, Martinsville could be a roadblock in his quest for the Sprint
 Cup  title.  He has competed  there just five times,  scoring a pair of top-10
 finishes. He placed ninth at Martinsville in the spring.
 
 "Martinsville  is just  one of  those  tracks where  it seems  like there  are
 numerous  variables  that we've struggled with,  and I don't think they're our
 fault,"  Keselowski said.  "When I look at  last year, I think we were running
 fifth  or sixth  in the fall and just  got caught up in a wreck on a late-race
 restart caused by somebody who retaliated on the track."
 
 Chevrolet  can mathematically  clinch its  10th consecutive  and 36th  overall
 manufacturers'  championship  in  NASCAR's  premier  series  this  weekend  at
 Martinsville.  The auto  maker presently holds a 22-point lead. Chevrolet will
 guarantee a clinch if one of its drivers finishes second or better there.
 
 Forty-five  teams  are on the preliminary  entry list for the Tums Fast Relief
 500.
 
 Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Oct. 28. Race: Tums Fast Relief 500.
 Site: Martinsville Speedway. Track: 0.526-mile oval. Start time: 2:00
 p.m.(ET). Laps: 500. Miles: 263. 2011 Winner: Tony Stewart. Television: ESPN.
 Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.
 
 10/25 11:46:15 ET

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