Dale Earnhardt Jr. has posted five straight top-10 finishes this season, and looks for his sixth Sunday at Martinsville in the NASCAR Spring Cup Series.
Earnhardt Jr. took the points lead from Brad Keselowski after placing second to Kyle Bush at Auto Club Speedway in California two weeks ago. Earnhardt Jr. will start from the No. 17 spot, and Busch will be at No. 11.
Keselowski dropped back to second in the standings when he placed 23rd in California, but ran a strong pole this week and begins Sunday’s race in the seventh spot.
It will be the first race of the season without Joe Gibbs Racing lightning rod Denny Hamlin, who suffered a fractured vertebra in California. Veteran Mark Martin will sub in for Hamlin for this one race, and has two victories at Martinsville in 48 career starts.
After Sunday, Brian Vickers will take over the No. 11 car until Hamlin can return. The 32-year-old has reportedly said he expects to be back in time for April 27’s race at Richmond International Speedway.
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That would have put Hamlin’s feud with Joey Logano on hold, but it’s doesn’t appear likely to end anytime soon. Hamlin and Logano were jockeying for position two weeks ago, and eventually Hamlin collided head on into a concrete wall. NASCAR is reportedly investigating what caused the injury, while Logano has gone back and forth on whether he intentionally caused Hamlin’s crash.
Current money-leader and five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson starts off from the lead position at Martinsville, the first time this season at No. 1. Johnson is line to win his second race in seven starts this season, something he didn't accomplish until May of last year at Darlington and the All-Star race.
The race begins at 1 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast by FOX.
Check out the top 10, along their car manufacturer and number, in the starting grid below:
Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 48
Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 9
Brian Vickers, Toyota, 55
Joey Logano, Ford, 22
Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 5
Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 24
Brad Keselowski, Ford, 2
Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 20
Carl Edwards, Ford, 99
Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 39