Jimmie Johnson fast at Martinsville? Not surprisingly, yes.
Johnson spun a track-record lap of 98.400 miles per hour Friday to win the pole for Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500. Johnson will pursue his eighth Martinsville victory in the season’s sixth Sprint Cup race.
Six drivers broke Tony Stewart’s old track qualifying record of 98.083 mph, set in October 2005.
Following Johnson were Marcos Ambrose, Brian Vickers, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, who was the final driver to break the record.
RESULTS STP Gas Booster 500 Qualifying
“I think the car is better,” said Vickers, when asked about the track-record speeds. “The rear is better, and there’s a little more downforce. The engines keep getting better. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things.”
Completing the top 10 were Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman.
Johnson said his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was fast all day Friday.
“The car was fast right off the truck,” he said. “I just did my part and backed it up.
“Track records are hard to come by. I’m happy to have that. We ran good in practice. At that point I just needed to do my job and not mess up. It was a great day across the board.”
Johnson won here last year and scored six Martinsville wins from 2004 to 2009.
Mark Martin, substituting for the injured Denny Hamlin in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota, qualified a disappointing 35th.
Series point leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 17th in pursuit of his first Martinsville victory.
Danica Patrick, scheduled to make her debut at Martinsville, was 32nd of 44 cars.
Mike Bliss was the only driver to miss the race.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.