Martinsville, VA (Sports Network) - Jimmie Johnson will have a huge advantage
over points leader Brad Keselowski in Sunday's Chase for the Sprint Cup race
at Martinsville Speedway after Johnson won the pole and Keselowski qualified
Johnson, who is currently seven points behind Keselowski, earned the pole for
the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville with a lap at 97.598 mph during
Friday's qualifying. The five-time Sprint Cup Series champion claimed his
third pole of the season and the 28th of his career. It will be the third time
he starts first at this 0.526-mile racetrack.
Johnson is a six-time race winner at Martinsville but has not been to victory
lane here since March 2009. He has yet to win a race in this year's Chase.
"When the playoffs hit, it doesn't matter what sport it is, crazy things
happen," Johnson said. "And with that being said, yeah, we come here thinking
that we should be able to get some points on the 2 (Keselowski), but you never
know. It's going to be a long race. We've helped ourselves out dramatically
today by qualifying on the pole. We've got the safest pit stall, and starting
with track position is very important."
Keselowski, who has five wins this year, including two in the postseason, had
his worst qualifying finish of the season. His lap was clocked at 96.015 mph.
Nineteen of 127 Cup races at Martinsville have been won from the pole, while
only one time has a driver won here after starting from a position outside the
top-30. Kurt Busch won the 2002 fall race at this track from the 36th starting
Brian Vickers, driving the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, grabbed
the outside pole with a lap at 97.533 mph. Earlier in the day, Vickers topped
the charts in practice. MWR also announced that he will drive the No. 55 car
in nine Sprint Cup races next season.
Kyle Busch qualified third, while Jeff Burton took the fourth spot. Busch and
Burton are not in this year's Chase field. Denny Hamlin was fifth. Hamlin is
presently 20 points out of the lead. He is also a four-time race winner at
Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, who won at Martinsville one year ago, Clint
Bowyer, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola completed the top-10. Kenseth has won
two of the last three Chase races, including a victory in last weekend's event
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 20th in his first race back since missing
Charlotte and Kansas due to a concussion. Earnhardt Jr. received medical
clearance earlier this week after passing a series of neuropsychological
evaluations, including a test session at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports
Park in Jefferson, Ga. He was second quickest in practice at Martinsville.
Mike Bliss and J.J. Yeley failed to qualify for Sunday's 500-lap race, which
is scheduled to start just after 2 p.m. (ET).
The Sports Network