ETC.: Stewart admits that releasing or firing any of his employees is "the hardest part for me. I let somebody else take care of it. That's probably one of my weaknesses as an owner, having to tell somebody that you're not going to need their services anymore. It's hard to make a decision like that that you know is going to alter their family but at the same time you have a family of 200 people that you're responsible for and looking out for."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 38 points out of the top 10.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. His best finish in eight starts is 11th, but most of his finishes have been 24th or worse.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose knows "Martinsville is a tough track and takes some aggressive driving to make a pass. You really have to be up on the wheel every lap and have a car that has a lot of grip. Most important, however, are the brakes. The track is so flat that they really get abused. You have to take care of them. You need to go easy at the beginning, so we can get aggressive at the end."
LOOKING BACK: Tire problems resulted in a 36th-place finish for Ambrose at Auto Club Speedway.
ETC: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer was not with the team last year when it ran Martinsville. Ambrose believes "having Drew with us this time will really help. He has a history of putting good set-ups in his cars at Martinsville. Strategy is also really important there. Between Drew, myself and the whole team, I think we can put together a good finish this weekend and move back up the standings."
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 40 points out of the top 10.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: One win and 16 top-10 finishes including 10 top-five's in 37 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Burton believes "it is so important to remain focused (at Martinsville). It's harder at Martinsville than anywhere else we go on the schedule. Keep your eye on the ball and try not to let things going on around you dictate what you do. Your goals need to dictate your actions. I think Martinsville is the hardest race track to stay focused on your goals."
LOOKING BACK: Burton finished 17th at Auto Club Speedway.
ETC.: When you put 43 cars on a flat, half-mile speedway like Martinsville, close-quarter racing becomes the norm. And that is why it is so hard to keep your fenders "clean. I think you have to make sure you are patient, but aggressive," adds Burton. "The more people you run into, the more it damages your car and makes it harder to drive."
11 MARK MARTIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 43 points out of the top 10.
MARTINSVILLE RECORD: Two wins and 25 top-10 finishes in 48 starts. Also won three poles.
LOOKING AHEAD: Martin was not scheduled to race this week, but he agreed to drive the 11 car with Denny Hamlin sidelined with a fractured vertebra. Martin will return to his regular ride next week at Texas. "I am glad to help out in any way I can," said Martin. "I got fitted for my driver's seat earlier this week, and I hope to keep the 11 car up front all day at Martinsville. I know that is one of the team's best tracks."
LOOKING BACK: With only 24 laps to go, Martin broke something in the rear end of his Toyota and slammed hard into the wall to end his day in 37th place.
ETC.: What we had last week was a failure to communicate as Joe Gibbs Racing first announced that Martin would substitute for Hamlin in all five races that he is expected to miss. But Michael Waltrip Racing quickly indicated "that wasn't what we had agreed to." A day later, JGR said Martin would only drive the car at Martinsville with Brian Vickers filling in for Hamlin while he is recovering from his injuries. "We were a bit premature in determining Mark's status past Martinsville," said JGR President J. D. Gibbs.
10 DANICA PATRICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE SHE STANDS: 29th, 58 points out of the top 10.