Cup starting lineup at Martinsville

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Fords flexed their muscle during Saturday’s qualifying, grabbing the first four spots and six of the first 11 for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Joey Logano will start from the pole, alongside Aric Almirola. Brad Keselowski will start in Row 2, alongside Kevin Harvick.

Row 3 will have Denny Hamlin and William Byron. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott make up Row 4, while Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez will start from Row 5.

Click here for the full row-by-row Cup starting lineup.

Note that the starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.

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NASCAR’s Saturday schedule at Martinsville Speedway

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It’ll be a very busy day at Martinsville Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series will have two practices as well as qualifying, while the Gander Outdoors Truck Series will qualify and then race.

Here is Saturday’s schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

6:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

7 a.m. – Truck garage opens

9:35 – 10:25 a.m. – Cup practice (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network)

10:40 a.m. – Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. – Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. – Truck Series TruNorth Global 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. – Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Kevin Harvick rallies to put forth another fourth-place effort

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In a sport that is based so much on numbers such as elapsed time, speed and more, Kevin Harvick is becoming a walking, talking advertisement for the science of numerology.

Think about it: not only does Harvick drive the No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford Mustang, he now has three fourth-place finishes in the first five races of the 2019 NASCAR Cup season.

Harvick had to work at it in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. He didn’t have the best or fastest car in the field, but constant adjustments by his team on pit road throughout the race kept improving the car, leading to its ultimate fourth-place showing.

My guys did a great job,” Harvick said. “We didn’t have much that we thought was going well this weekend, but they made the car better and did a great job of keeping us in the game. It raced well and we had a great day on pit road. We overachieved today and I am really proud of everyone on the team for that.”

Harvick acknowledged he didn’t have much late in the race for eventual winner Kyle Busch, runner-up Joey Logano and third-place finisher Brad Keselowski, which is why he was so happy to put forth yet another fourth.

I didn’t have anything for the Penske cars or the 18 car (Busch),” Harvick said. “They did a great job of racing hard all day and we made a lot out of the West Coast Swing with not very much. We have some work to do but we know you still have to go race. Our Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang was okay today and we got a decent finish.”

Harvick has earned fourth-place finishes at Atlanta, Las Vegas and now Fontana, sandwiched around a ninth-place showing at Phoenix, falling back from a potential top-five finish in the closing laps.

While he’d obviously love to reach victory lane, his fourth-place finishes have helped to keep him right in the middle of the points standings, leaving Fontana in third-place in the rankings, 24 points behind points leader Busch.

We have done that four weeks in a row but when you come to this West Coast swing you have what you have and we left here with four top-10’s and three top-fives over the first five races.

I am proud of everybody for that. It isn’t always going to be good. You have to try to figure out how to do things better when they aren’t going very good and our guys have done that.”

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Jimmie Johnson fastest in Friday’s Cup practice at Fontana

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Jimmie Johnson was ight at home at his home race track in Friday’s lone NASCAR Cup practice session at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Johnson covered the two-mile high speed oval with the best speed of the 38 drivers that took to the track at 179.386 mph. In fact, Chevrolet drivers comprised the top three fastest drivers with Austin Dillon second-fastest (179.350), followed by Chris Buescher (178.975).

Johnson has had significant success at Auto Club Speedway in his career. He’s made 24 Cup starts there, earning six wins, 13 top-fives and 17 top-10s.

“There are tracks that a driver can make a difference at,” Johnson said. “Dover has always been one for me. This track has been one. The one thing that is so different right now is we’re back to a package we’ve run two other times this year. We’re on a high wear track.

“I look at Atlanta, it did not go well. Atlanta is similar to this place. So, I’m hopeful that we’ve made our car better since Atlanta for this type of environment. That’s what I think the whole Hendrick Motorsports crowd is focused on right now.”

Johnson’s winless streak is now at 63 races. His last victory was at Dover in spring 2017. He’d love to break that dubious streak Sunday on familiar ground.

“Without a doubt,” Johnson said. “And, I’m not into crashing cars. I’m not into crashing other people for the win. So, moving somebody out of the way for a win is the way you need to race.

“And then the thing that I find so funny is people want to say that NASCAR has lost its character and that drivers are scared and they won’t move somebody out of the way; and then a guy does it and you have this backlash. So, I don’t know.”

All of the fastest speeds in the session came from cars that had a draft.

Click here for practice report

Kyle Busch, who hopes to earn his 200th overall NASCAR victory of his career in either Saturday’s Xfinity race or Sunday’s Cup race, was fourth-fastest at 178.802 mph, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin (178.767).

Brad Keselowski was the fastest and only Ford driver in the top 10 with a sixth-best speed of 178.399 mph, followed by Chase Elliott (178.390), William Byron (178.108), Matt DiBenedetto (178.020) and Kyle Larson (178.686).

Qualifying for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 will take place later this afternoon at 5:40 p.m. ET.

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Jeb Burton returns to Rick Ware Racing for first Cup start of 2019

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Jeb Burton will make his first Cup start of 2019 when he drives the second chartered entry for Rick Ware Racing in the March 24 STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, team officials announced Thursday.

Burton will drive the No. 52 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 with sponsorship from Muzzy Bowfishing and RockyBoots.com.

NASCAR veteran George Church will serve as crew chief for Burton’s 32nd career Cup start.

Burton’s last Cup start was last fall at Martinsville, and was also for Rick Ware Racing, starting 39th and finishing 33rd at the .526-mile paperclip facility that Burton considers his home race track.

The son of former Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, Jeb Burton will be making his fourth Cup start at Martinsville, with a career best finish of 27th in 2015. He’s also made six Gander Outdoors Truck Series starts at Martinsville, with two top-five finishes and a pole.

I have a great relationship with Rick and the RWR team,” Jeb Burton said. “Hopefully, we can build on how we performed last year.”

Added team owner Rick Ware, “The Burton name carries a lot of weight in that area and we will do all we can to put Jeb in a competitive car. We know he can drive it, so the guys at the shop have been working very hard to build him a good car.”

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