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EARNHARDT RETURNS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway after being medically cleared for competition. Since being diagnosed with a concussion following the Oct. 7 race at Talladega, Ala., Earnhardt has participated in a rehabilitation program directed by Charlotte (N.C.) neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. On Monday, Earnhardt logged more than 100 laps in a Sprint Cup car during a test session attended by Petty at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga. Following a final evaluation Tuesday morning in Charlotte, Petty cleared the driver for NASCAR competition.
POINTS WITH FOUR TO GO: Earnhardt currently ranks 12th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He did not compete in the Cup events at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway after being diagnosed with a concussion. Regan Smith filled in for Earnhardt at both tracks.
AT MARTINSVILLE: In 25 Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville, Earnhardt has scored 10 top-five finishes, 14 top-10s and led 868 laps. He recorded a career-best runner-up finish at the Virginia short track behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet in October 2008 and again in April 2011.
PERSONAL BESTS: Earnhardt’s 868 laps led at Martinsville are his personal best at a track. He has tallied 256 of those laps driving the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. His 10 top-five finishes at Martinsville are a personal best at a track. His 14 top-10 finishes match his personal best at a track. He also has 14 top-10s at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
SHORT TRACK STATS: In 78 Cup starts on short tracks, Earnhardt has recorded four wins, 26 top-five finishes and 37 top-10s. He has a 16.9 average starting position and an average finishing position of 12.8 on these racetracks.
DRIVER RATING: According to NASCAR’s loop data statistics, Earnhardt is ranked fifth in the driver rating category at Martinsville with a score of 100.1 in the last 15 races. The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes. The maximum a driver can earn in each race is 150 points. The driver rating number is used pre-race as a prediction tool and post-race as a performance evaluator.
LAPS IN THE TOP 15: Earnhardt ranks fourth among drivers for laps run in the top 15 during the last 15 races at Martinsville. Earnhardt has spent 75.8 percent of all laps (5,710 of 7,534 laps) in the top 15 per NASCAR’s loop statistics.
CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Steve Letarte will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-654 for this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway. This will be the fourth time Earnhardt has raced this chassis, and each time, he has driven it at Martinsville to record an average fourth-place finish. He drove this chassis during the 2011 season to a second-place finish at Martinsville in April and a seventh-place finish in October. In April 2012, he drove it to a third-place finish at the Virginia short track.
HENDRICK BESTS AT MARTINSVILLE: Hendrick Motorsports has recorded its most wins and top-10 finishes at Martinsville. The organization has 18 victories there, most recently reaching Victory Lane at the short track in March 2009. In October 2011, three Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished seventh or better to give the organization 100 career top-10s at Martinsville. That figure marked a team-best for Hendrick, and combines with Earnhardt’s third-place finish there in April to give the team 101 top-10 results at Martinsville — more than any other team has acquired at any Cup track in NASCAR history.
MARTINSVILLE DUO: Jeff Gordon leads active drivers at the Virginia short track in the following statistical categories: wins (seven), top-five finishes (25), top-10s (31) and laps led (3,423). Jimmie Johnson ranks second among active drivers with six victories.