Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 3/28/12

While the University of Kansas, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville  and The Ohio State University prepare to close out the NCAA’s March Madness in New Orleans this weekend, NASCAR prepares to close out its own version when it visits the paper clip-shaped Martinsville (Va.) Speedway oval this Sunday.

With three trips to the West Coast in the last four weeks, plus the bullring atmosphere of Bristol in-between, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series closes out March with more close-pack racing in the tight confines at the shortest track on the schedule. And as he prepares to join his fellow competitors for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 MyLowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, is out to prove his stunning statistics at Martinsville are anything but madness.

Most impressive are his consistent finishes in the top-10. In 20 races run at Martinsville, he has finished outside the top-10 only twice – a 35th-place finish in his first race in April 2002, and an 11th-place run last April. Johnson credits watching his teammate Jeff Gordon make laps at the .526-mile oval with helping him figure out what he needed to do to “get around the track better.” The unsolicited tutorial has obviously helped as he has never finished worse than 11th since his first race and has finished in the top-three 11 times in 20 outings.

With his Martinsville resume, it appears for Johnson that the track is the perfect place to close out the madness of March and, like either Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville or Ohio State, start April on a somewhat more calm but victorious note.

Are you looking forward to going to Martinsville?

“I do have a lot of success at Martinsville, but it took me a few tries to get it right. And since then, it’s been a very good track for me. I certainly want to get back to my winning ways there. But, at a minimum, we always end up with a real strong finish. When I think of how close we were to victory last fall, it didn’t happen but we led a lot of laps and our car was a factor in the end. I’m looking forward to going back and trying to win there again. Martinsville is really rhythm-based. That’s me as a driver, and really takes place at any track, but that is one of the tracks where the rhythm is so important and so specific. And I have a very good rhythm for the race in the long run and have always struggled a little bit with qualifying in the short-run rhythm there. I feel like I get better each year. I did get a pole there at one point and I hope to find that magic once again when we go back because qualifying is so important. But it really is a rhythm racetrack.”

 

Talk about where you are in points right now? Is it a relief to be back in the top-10?

“Well, it definitely is a relief to be back in the top-10. We put ourselves in hole to start the season after our finish at Daytona. I think that was one of the lowest spots we’ve ever been in the points, but our guys buckled down and worked hard and we have the finishes to show for it. I’m very proud that we have finished in the top-10 in all of the races since Daytona. I hope that continues in Martinsville. It has certainly been a good track for us but, as you know, anything can happen there.”

Some interesting tidbits about Johnson

named by Forbes in 2011 as its Most Influential Athlete in the U.S.

In 2009, Johnson became the first and currently only racecar driver to be named Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in its 80-year history.

Voted Driver of the Year four times in his career (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010), joining Gordon as the only other four-time winner of the prestigious honor.

Johnson has won an ESPY for Best Driver four times – 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

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