MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Denny Hamlin promised he would be a factor in Sunday’s NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway, and he went out and proved it by leading a parade of drivers who smashed the track qualifying record.
Hamlin turned a lap at 99.595 mph around the 0.526-mile oval, the oldest and shortest in the Sprint Cup Series. It is his 17th career pole at NASCAR’s highest level and career-best fifth this season.
“I knew we were going to be pretty strong,” Hamlin said about the track where he has won four times. “I knew we had a shot at the pole and, beyond that, I think our car is pretty good in race trim as well.”
Johnson, a five-time Cup champion for Hendrick Motorsports, will start the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 with a four-point lead over Matt Kenseth in the championship race, and surrounded by Kenseth and two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
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“No,” Johnson said when asked if being surrounded made him nervous. “Maybe I should be, but not as of now. We will all race hard, I’m sure.
“We have all been, at least so far, in a lot of situations with each driver and been able to race hard and take it right to the line, but not cross it.”
Johnson and Busch tied in qualifying at 99.344 mph, but Johnson was awarded the second spot based on the owner-points tiebreaker, moving Busch to the third spot with Kenseth alongside.
Johnson, who has won eight times at Martinsville, including the last two, said his team struggled for much of the day in practice, but “we found some direction there at the end and made some adjustments.”
Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw will start in 25th, and Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., will start in 33rd of 43.