Martinsville: News of note

* Just like old times: No. 43 team coming off first top-5 finish since 2001 * Take ownership: Top 35 in current car owner points are assured starting spots NEWS AND NOTES Locked-In Bubble ... The top 35 tension has begun, on a week-to-week...

* Just like old times: No. 43 team coming off first top-5 finish since 2001

* Take ownership: Top 35 in current car owner points are assured starting spots

NEWS AND NOTES

Locked-In Bubble ... The top 35 tension has begun, on a week-to-week basis. At each race for the balance of the season, the current top 35 teams in the car owner point standings are guaranteed starting spots. Prior to Bristol, the top 35 "locked-in" berths were based on the final 2005 owner points. That sanctity is gone, creating a weekly "bubble" surrounding the 35th spot.

Following below is a look at those teams who are clinging to locked-in status going into Martinsville -- and those teams trying to reach that status. This week's 35th-place team is the No. 10 Valvoline/Stanley Tools Dodge team owned by Jim Rocco, with Scott Riggs as the driver. The team has a 30-point advantage over the first outside-looking-in team, the No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet owned by Nelson Bowers and driven by Sterling Marlin.

In The Loop: Driver Rating, Series Points Lead Coincide With Kenseth ... Anyway you look at it, this week, Matt Kenseth is No. 1. The leader of the series' point standings, Kenseth also has the series' top Driver Rating of 115.3. The rating is derived from various specific statistical categories assembled via NASCAR's loop scoring system, offering a complete picture of each driver's strengths and weaknesses. Season-to-date Loop Data statistics show reigning series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) has the second-best Driver Rating of 110.9. Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford) is third with a 105.6 rating.

More Loop Data statistics are available each week, providing in-depth analysis of each NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race, at www.nascarmedia.com.

Looking Up: Petty Team Boosted By Top-5 Finish At Bristol ... Preseason, there was considerable talk about a potential resurgence by one of NASCAR's most renowned organizations, Petty Enterprises, primarily because of the addition of 2000 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) as lead driver. Coming out of Bristol, the talk was resuming because of a run that validated optimism. Labonte finished fifth this past Sunday at Bristol, a run that was both solid and significant.

Extremely significant.

It was the first top-five finish for the famed Petty Enterprises No. 43 since March 25, 2001 at Bristol, when John Andretti had a second place. And, it was only the third top-five finish for the No. 43 since the entry's last victory on April 18, 1999 at Martinsville Speedway with Andretti driving.

The buzz around the Petty effort actually returned pre-Bristol. Labonte started fourth the previous week at Atlanta and led 13 laps before going out because of engine problems.

"After [Atlanta] we were confident," Labonte said. "We just had to put everything together. It was a good team effort."

Loop Data statistics from last year's two Martinsville events showed Labonte -- then driving the No. 18 Joe Gibbs-owned Chevrolet -- to be one of the most consistent drivers, as he was in the top five of six different loop categories, including a fourth-place Driver Rating.

On The Right Track ... Jeff Gordon has his seven victories at Martinsville Speedway. But many other drivers have their own records of success there. Here are a few:

* Mark Martin has 21 top-10 finishes in 40 Martinsville starts;

* Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) has seven consecutive top-10 finishes there;

* Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) has a 4.0 average start at Martinsville;

* Tony Stewart had the highest Driver Rating -- 130.7 -- at Martinsville last season, based on Loop Data from both events. Stewart also led six other Loop Data categories at Martinsville last year including Average Running Position -- 3.784.

Spencer Replacing Sherman at Martinsville ... BAM Racing's No. 49 Serta Dodge will be driven this weekend by veteran Jimmy Spencer, who will replace the team's regular driver Brent Sherman. Spencer will stay with the team, as a "mentor" to rookie Sherman and as a part-time driver. Sherman will return to driving duties for the next race in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, at Texas Motor Speedway.

Milestone Time For Front Row Joe ... Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet) is set to make his 400th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start on Sunday, at Martinsville. Said Nemechek: "I hope to do 400 more."

Nemechek's first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start was July 11, 1993 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon. He started 15th and finished 36th in a family-owned Chevrolet. Nemechek was the NASCAR Busch Series champion in 1992.

Raybestos Rookie Update: Points Battle Tightens ... Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedExpress Chevrolet) was the highest finishing rookie at Bristol, in 14th place, which further tightened the Raybestos Rookie of the Year point standings. Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet), 29th at Bristol, still leads the rookie points with 52, but Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) are tied for second with 46 points.

Pit Crew Spotlight: No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet ... "Larry the Cable Guy" is in the theaters. "Caleb the Cable Guy" is at the track.

Caleb "Cable Guy" Hurd is the gas man for Jeff Gordon's car on race day. Hurd, from Pulaski, Va. -- 100 miles northwest of Martinsville -- primarily serves as an engineer for Hendrick Motorsports, gathering computerized data for both Gordon's and Jimmie Johnson's teams. Hurd holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech.

The story behind his nickname? Well, it does have to do with a movie. But it doesn't have to do with Larry.

Seems when Hurd first started at Hendrick's, his relatively uncommon first name was "noted" by his co-workers. The movie "Cable Guy," starring Jim Carrey, was still popular at the time. Convenience and comedy combined; Caleb quickly morphed into Cable Guy -- and it stuck.

Hurd is OK with the nickname, but he's especially proud of his given name. He is named after three-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

Chevrolet Leads Manufacturers' Standings ... Five races into the season, this season's battle for the Manufacturers' Championship is shaping up as a close one. Chevrolet still leads, with 34 points. Dodge is second with 32 while Ford is third with 29.

On Deck: Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway ... Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard/Subway Ford) is defending champion of the next race on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule, the Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 9. (FOX, 1:30 p.m. ET.) Biffle's win last year was the second of his series-high six victories, and helped fuel his run at the series championship which ended with a runner-up finish in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Fast Facts

Next race: DIRECTV 500 (Race No. 6 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season).

The track: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
The date/time: Sunday, April 2, 2 p.m. (ET).

TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.

Posted awards: $4,817,986.

Race length: 500 laps/263 miles.
Track layout: .526-mile oval.

2005 winner: Jeff Gordon.
2005 polesitter: Scott Riggs.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Matt Kenseth 782. 2. Kasey Kahne 774. 3. Jimmie Johnson 763. 4. Mark Martin 750. 5. Kyle Busch 677. 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 664. 7. Jeff Gordon 644. 8. Casey Mears 642. 9. Tony Stewart 601. 10. Dale Jarrett 593.

Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 12:05-1:35 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 9-10 a.m. and 10:35-11:20 a.m.

-nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Jimmy Spencer , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Scott Riggs , Kasey Kahne , Brent Sherman , J.J. Yeley , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Cale Yarborough , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing