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 32nd.
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.
"I certainly would like to qualify better, and that's at the forefront of my mind, but I'd much rather race towards the front rather than qualify towards the front if I had to pick between the two," Keselowski said. "I feel like we'll be capable of pulling that off once the race gets started."
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 spot.
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 Martinsville.
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 at Kansas.
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).