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5 drivers to watch

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

JEFF GORDON

CAR: No. 24 Chevrolet.

STARTING POSITION: First.

BEST FINISH: First (1996, '97, '99).

NOTES: The Winston Cup champ has been off his game this season, but a runner-up finish last week at Texas and a pole here could signal a turnaround. Chevy is winless but aerodynamics don't mean a thing at Martinsville, where Gordon's average finish of 7.0 leads active drivers.

JOHN ANDRETTI

CAR: No. 43 Dodge.

STARTING POSITION: 21st.

BEST FINISH: First (1999).

NOTES: Andretti loves Martinsville, which gives him a psychological advantage over most. Not that his overall results are impressive, but this is the site of his last victory. Maybe if he wins again, owner Kyle Petty will let him race in the Indy 500.

RUSTY WALLACE

CAR: No. 2 Ford.

STARTING POSITION: Fifth.

BEST FINISH: First (six times).

NOTES: Wallace is the active leader in Martinsville victories, including a sweep in 1994. His strongest qualifying run of the season bodes well for extending to 17 his streak of seasons with at least one victory. A win puts him in the thick of the championship race.

MARK MARTIN

CAR: No. 6 Ford.

STARTING POSITION: 17th.

BEST FINISH: First (1992, 2000).

NOTES: What better place for the veteran to snap a 69-race winless streak than a place called Martinsville, site of his last victory? Roush Racing is back on track, and Martin has the savvy and patience to win here on this tricky track.

TERRY LABONTE

CAR: No. 5 Chevrolet.

STARTING POSITION: Fourth.

BEST FINISH: Second (three times).

NOTES: Labonte leads active drivers with 25 top 10s, the most recent in 1998. The two-time Winston Cup champion has not won since 1999, but starts better than 24th for the first time in 10 races at Martinsville. The car is new, built for short tracks.

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