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NASCAR Sprint Cup at Martinsville: Sunday’s STP 500 preview

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Patrick seeks to improve attitude

Danica Patrick has often attributed her struggles in performance in the Sprint Cup Series to her inability to qualify well. On Friday, despite struggling in practice, she earned just her second top-10 start of her career.

“Just got to expect the unexpected, I guess. Just nailing that lap, I mean that is qualifying. I just have to get better at it,” said Patrick, who will start 10th on Sunday.

“I’ve got to get better at getting all of it out of the car every time, and I have such kind of a negative attitude about qualifying that I said I need to be positive and at least be neutral on it and let these be positive reinforcements. It’s so important.”

Patrick’s other top-10 start came in the 2013 Daytona 500, when she started from the pole and finished eighth. That is also her only top-10 finish.

Patrick hasn’t started in the top 20 since qualifying 11th at Daytona last July.

Notebook

Harvick honors firefighters: Kevin Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team are hosting five members of the Oak Ridge (N.C.) Fire Department who responded to a fire at his home last November.

Chief Steve Simmons and four additional firefighters from the department will serve as honorary crew members during Sunday’s race in appreciation of their efforts.

“If it weren’t for these guys, I wouldn’t have a house,” said Harvick, who took his 18-month-old son Keelan to tour the fire station earlier in the week. “We didn’t think anything was actually on fire, because we couldn’t see any flames and figured the smoke was coming from the fireplace.”

Harvick’s car will also carry a special “Smoke detectors save lives” decal recognizing both the firefighters and department for their life-saving efforts.

Remembering ‘Mrs. Lynda’: This weekend, Richard Petty Motorsports has distributed commemorative stickers honoring Lynda Petty to all the teams in the garage to place on their cars if they choose. Lynda, wife of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, died on Tuesday.

Three things to watch

1. Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have a combined 16 wins at Martinsville Speedway. Gordon is the track’s most recent winner, having won last fall’s race.

2. Kyle Busch, who starts from the pole, needs to lead 62 laps to become the 15th driver in Cup series history to reach the 10,000 career laps led milestone.

3. Joey Logano set the track qualifying record Friday but starts third – one of the nuances of NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying process.

Observations

• There is a legal phrase, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” which may well apply to the controversy – real or contrived – surrounding the reason Denny Hamlin sat out last Sunday’s race in California. Just because Joe Gibbs Racing took four days to provide a confirmed diagnosis (piece of metal in Hamlin’s eye) doesn’t necessarily mean there was anything sinister afoot. However, in this day and age of instant results, the absence of a timely explanation does provide fertile ground for the growth of rumor and speculation. Right or wrong, that’s exactly what happened. Hamlin may not be obligated to provide timely updates on his condition but his failure to do so serves as an open invitation for the creation of the very rumors he detests.

• There are probably several legitimate reasons why Martinsville Speedway may be considered outdated for the Cup series. Its size, lack of amenities, remote location, absence of a large TV market – all may one day prod International Speedway Corporation into abandoning the track. But two things continue to work for it – Martinsville tends to produce some of the most interesting races on the circuit and it serves as perhaps the last, best reminder of NASCAR of yesteryear.

• Danica Patrick will start 10th on Sunday, her second-best start in her Cup career and best on a non-restrictor plate track. One of the things Patrick says has stymied her performance is her inability to qualify well. She is in good position to change that Sunday. Let’s see what she does with it.

Best bets

Three picks for your fantasy racing team:

Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick

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