Hamlin on pole for Sunday's Goody's 500 at Martinsville
MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Jimmie Johnson may be a favorite to win Sunday's Goody's 500 at Martinsville Speedway, but he will start the race deep in enemy territory.
Johnson, who qualified second, will be surrounded by all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers as polesitter Denny Hamlin leads a parade of Sprint Cup Series title contenders to the green flag.
Hamlin's teammates, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, line up third and fourth, respectively.
With four races left this season, Johnson leads the series standings by four points over Kenseth. Kevin Harvick and Busch are tied in third, both 26 behind Johnson.
When first appraised of the rundown in the media center Friday at Martinsville Speedway, Busch exclaimed, "Yes!"
Asked if he was worried about being surrounded by JGR teammates, Johnson quipped: "I wasn't until Kyle got so excited just now."
The pole was a welcome bit of good news for Hamlin, who has had one top-10 finish in his past 18 races and missed four races early in the season after suffering a broken vertebra in his back.
"You're only as good as your last accomplishment, and mine was only 20 minutes ago," said Hamlin, who earned his fifth pole of the year and 17th of his career.
"We've got our best car here. Everything is lined up to be successful this weekend. And I'm pretty decent here."
Hamlin has four career wins at Martinsville, most recently in the fall of 2010. Hamlin is winless this season and has never completed a full season in the Cup series without winning at least one race.
He views today's race as the best opportunity to ensure 2013 doesn't end that streak.
"When racing for the win, I'll be a lot more aggressive with a non-teammate than a teammate," Hamlin said. "I wouldn't take anyone out intentionally."
Asked if there was anything Hamlin could do to make Johnson's life more difficult in the race, Hamlin said it was possible but difficult.
"I can do things as far as setting the pace as the race starts," Hamlin said. "But Jimmie knows what he's doing. He won't let me goad him into doing something he doesn't want to do."Clint Bowyer qualified fifth, Joey Logano sixth, Jamie McMurray seventh, David Ragan eighth, Jeff Gordon ninth and Harvick 10th.And for the remainder of the drivers in the Chase, Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts 12th, Carl Edwards 14th, Ryan Newman 17th, Kurt Busch 19th, Kasey Kahne 25th and Greg Biffle 33rd.
Johnson, who has eight wins at Martinsville himself, said he and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team won't take anything for granted this weekend.
"I'm very happy to be here, the week was a comfortable week; one, from having a decent finish at Talladega and taking the points lead. Then two, rolling into a track that is historically really good for the No. 48," Johnson said.
"It's been a good week, but again that doesn't guarantee anything for the weekend. We have to go out here and get the job done and work hard."
David Ragan qualified eighth, earning Front Row Motorsports its best start in the Cup series race since the organization's inception in 2005.
"We were able to come up here and test and the track was a little different than where we tested at a few weeks ago, so we were struggling," Ragan said. "Jay Guy (crew chief) and our team made some adjustments for qualifying. That was a good lap."