Wednesday, Jun 29

Denny Hamlin wins Martinsville Coors Light pole with track-record lap

It was an afternoon of few surprises.

Martinsville Speedway’s two most prolific NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners in the past seven years will start 1-2 in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at the .526-mile short track.

Denny Hamlin won the Coors Light pole for the seventh race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, turning a track-record lap in 19.013 seconds (99.595 mph). Hamlin, who has four Martinsville victories, will start beside second-place qualifier Jimmie Johnson (99.344 mph), who has eight Martinsville wins to his credit, most among active drivers.

Johnson, the series leader, will start in close proximity to all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, including his closest pursuer for the Cup title, Matt Kenseth (four points back), who qualified fourth at 99.183 mph. Kyle Busch will start third, having matched Johnson’s speed to the thousandth of a second and losing a tiebreaker based on owner points.

The Coors Light pole award was Hamlin’s fifth of the 2013, a personal best for a single season, the 17th of his career and his third at Martinsville.

Having missed four races because of a fractured vertebra, Hamlin isn’t part of the Chase, but he said Friday that he might be able to goad Johnson into overtaxing his equipment by setting a torrid pace from the outset.

“I could make his life tougher in the sense of setting a pace that he has to chase or something like that,” Hamlin said. “If we can get our car pretty good in race trim, I think that you could force someone to push the envelope.

“Obviously, he’s won many championships—he knows how to win ‘em. He’s finished second to me here before, but yet won the championship, so he knows what he’s doing. I think he probably won’t let me goad him into doing something that he wouldn’t normally do—he’s too good for that—but, obviously, with my teammates right there on him, they’ll probably be putting a lot of pressure on him to set a fast pace.”

For his part, Johnson says he’s not nervous with the three Gibbs car surrounding him, even though Busch suggested he should be.

“I wasn’t until Kyle got so excited,” Johnson quipped.

Kevin Harvick, who is tied with Busch for third in the Chase standings, 26 points behind Johnson, earned the 10th starting spot. Jeff Gordon, fifth in points, was one spot better, as all five of the top championship contenders qualified in the top 10.

Danica Patrick qualified 41st in a backup car after wrecking in Turns 1 and 2 early in Friday’s opening practice. Twenty minutes after Patrick hit the wall, boyfriend and fellow rookie-of-the-year contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed at nearly the same spot.

After the accident, which one writer called a “sympathy wreck,” Stenhouse’s crew repaired the damage to the No. 17 Ford, which qualified 20th.

The track qualifying record was the 18th set this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. All told, 18 drivers bettered the previous mark of 99.244 mph set by Johnson on April 5.


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