Martinsville, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - Denny Hamlin grabbed the pole for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race after setting a new track qualifying record at Martinsville Speedway.
Hamlin made a lap around this 0.526-mile, paperclip-shaped oval at 99.595 mph during Friday's qualifying for his 17th career pole, including his personal- best and series-high fifth this season. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver missed the spring race at Martinsville while he was recovering from a compression fracture in his lower back that he sustained during an accident in the March 24 event in Fontana, Calif.
Martinsville is one of Hamlin's best tracks, as he has won four Sprint Cup races here. He had three consecutive victories at this track from 2009-10.
"I knew we were going to be pretty strong, and I knew we had a shot at the pole," Hamlin said. "Beyond that, I thought our car was pretty good in race trim. Usually, anytime we qualify on the pole, it bodes well for us on Sunday. Hopefully, this weekend is no different from that."
Jimmie Johnson, who took over the lead in the Chase point standings last weekend at Talladega, will share the front row with Hamlin after posting a lap at 93.344 mph. Johnson has won the last two races from the pole at Martinsville. He enters this event with just a four-point advantage over Matt Kenseth, who qualified fourth.
"I felt like I had a good last lap, although it wasn't the most efficient and smoothest lap, so I felt like I had a chance to maybe slide down to fifth or sixth or something as the session went on," Johnson said. "I think the conditions were pretty tough for everybody. I saw a lot of guys slipping and sliding around, and evidently the lap wasn't all that bad. I would have loved to do one spot better."
Kyle Busch qualified third to give JGR three of the top-four starting positions. Busch had the exact time/speed as Johnson, but he currently trails Johnson by 26 points.
"I think Jimmie hit the nail on the head there, obviously, qualifying was a little bit different, but we liked our car in practice," Busch said. "I think it's my best ever start (at Martinsville), so whether it's second or third, maybe there's an asterisk that goes next to it, but it's fun to qualify well here."
Clint Bowyer took the fifth spot, followed by Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, who won at Talladega, and David Ragan. Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick completed the top-10. Harvick is also 26 points behind Johnson. Gordon trails his Hendrick Motorsports teammate by 34 points.
The top-18 drivers in qualifying surpassed the previous track record of 98.400 mph, set by Johnson in April. With this being the inaugural season of the Gen-6 race car, it's the 18th time in 2013 that a track qualifying record in NASCAR's top series has been broken.
Danica Patrick qualified 41st in a backup car after crashing her primary car in practice, which was held earlier in the day.