Jimmie Johnson wins Martinsville pole
So what else is new?
Jimmie Johnson, who won last fall's race at Martinsville Speedway from the top starting spot, continued his mastery of the paper-clip-shaped track during Friday afternoon's time trials.
In the first competitive appearance of NASCAR's Gen-6 race car at Martinsville, Johnson blistered the vaunted short track in 19.244 seconds (98.400 mph) in winning the pole for Sunday's STP Gas Booster 500, as the top six drivers in the field topped the former track record of 98.084 mph established by Tony Stewart in October 2005.
In winning his third Coors Light pole award at Martinsville and the 30th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole of his career, Johnson edged Marcos Ambrose by .007 seconds. Brian Vickers qualified third, followed by Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon. Kahne and Gordon, Johnson's teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, ran identical speeds (98.185 mph), with Kahne getting the fifth starting spot based on his car's higher standing in owner points.
In his first practice run earlier in the day, Johnson knew his No. 48 Chevrolet SS was fast.
"In the first run out, we were in (qualifying) trim and made two or three laps, and I knew right away that we had a great shot at it today," said Johnson, a seven-time winner at Martinsville. "At that point, I just needed to do my job and not mess up.
"So I'm very proud of that. It's very easy to (mess up) at this race track, especially once practice ends. You sit and have lunch and relax for a couple hours and have to do it all over again. A great day across the board — team, driver, engine, car, everything that's new. We were able to step up and figure it out and get the car dialed in."
Early in Friday's session, the track record fell. Logano, the third driver to make a qualifying run, toured the .526-mile short track in 19.269 seconds (98.272 mph), breaking the record set by Stewart, one of his Fontana antagonists from two weeks ago.
Six cars later, Ambrose (98.384 mph) knocked Logano off the provisional pole, and Vickers followed with a lap at 98.287 mph to push Logano back to third after 14 of 44 cars had taken time trials. Johnson's pole run late in the session bumped Logano to fourth.
The No. 2 Ford of defending series champion Brad Keselowski was late getting through inspection and made it to the grid with seconds left on the five-minute clock. Keselowski nevertheless qualified seventh at 98.078 mph.
Notes: Danica Patrick will start 32nd for her first race at Martinsville and the first for a female driver in NASCAR's top division at the venerable short track. ... Subbing for injured Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin qualified 35th in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. ... Mike Bliss failed to make the 43-car field.
YOU POSTED A NEW TRACK RECORD. TALK ABOUT YOUR LAP:
“I just heard that. That’s the icing on the cake. That makes the day even better yet. Track records are hard to come by, so I’m very proud of that and happy to have that. My first run out, we were in q-trim and we made two or three laps and we just knew right away that we would have a great shot at it today. At that point, I just needed to do my job and not mess up. So I’m very proud of that. It’s very easy to do at this race track, especially once practice ends. You’ll sit and have lunch and relax for a couple of hours and then have to do it all over again. It was a great day across the board for the team, driver, the engine, the car, and everything. We got the car dialed-in.”
HOW DID YOU FEEL DRIVING IN THE CAR TODAY WITH SETTING THE RECORD? DID YOU HAVE THAT IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND WHILE MAKING YOUR LAP?
“I didn’t know what the record was and honestly didn’t know that we were below it in practice either. We ran a .21 in practice so I was unaware of that altogether. I just heard about it as we were taking photos with the Coors Light backdrop and everything. Great news. It was something again, I didn’t know about but am very happy to have.”
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST ADVANTAGE TO BEING ON THE POLE HERE IN MARTINSVILLE?
“That pit stall. If you get behind or if you’re off-strategy or if you have any reason that leads you to lose track position, that pit stall is worth three to five positions on the race track. It’s a big, big advantage from that perspective.”
DURING PRACTICE, DID YOU DO ANY LONG RUNS? DID YOU GET ANY SENSE OF TIRE HEAT AND BEAD HEAT AND DO YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE WHERE YOU ARE CONSIDERING THE PROBLEMS YOU’VE HAD EARLIER THIS YEAR?
“I didn’t do any race runs at all. And I know the No. 88 (Earnhardt Jr.) did. I think our teammates all started in race trim but we were just strictly in qualifying trim. I know that they saw some high wear, which is very common to have here. Until we get into the Cup practice tomorrow, the track just doesn’t take rubber for some reason. It usually stays pretty green an abrasive.
“But I don’t feel like we’ll have a lot of beading issues here based on conversations I’ve had with the team and understanding the Bristol tire and what tire they bring here. You can eventually get them too hot and have it be a problem, but the problem I had at Bristol was not a bead problem. The bead might have blown out, but it wasn’t from heat around where the tire and bead meet. If you have a good-driving race car, I don’t think you’ll see any melted beads from brake temps.”
DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR SEVEN GRANDFATHER TROPHIES ARE?
“Yeah. Six are at my man cave, my warehouse, and then one is in my office.”
DO YOU HAVE A PLACE FOR NUMBER 8 IF YOU WIN IT?
“Oh, I’ve got a big warehouse. I’ve got a lot of room. I call it the warehouse, but it’s really my man cave. I’ve got everything from when I was a kid on dirt bikes that I’ve saved, that my mom has saved, all the way to stuff now. So, I have a pretty good collection.”
DO YOU KNOW WHAT OTHER TRACK RECORDS YOU HOLD?
“I think I have one in California? No? Okay. Um, this could be a fun game (laughter). Kansas? No. I’m terrible with stats. There are a lot of stats given to me whenever I’m in here (Media Center). I’m always playing dumb. I’m not really playing dumb, I’m just dumb. I just don’t know. Kentucky? I was on the pole in Kentucky? Awesome. Heck, that was recent, too, and I don’t even remember that (laughs). Those were the only two? Now I know the stat.”
“Yeah, I feel like when the track is resurfaced, that brings in an opportunity. I feel like this car will give us a better chance at a lot of tracks that might have an older surface on it, because of all the extra downforce we have with it. Again, I think it’s a moving target because of the age of the surface on every track.”
ON SETTING A NEW QUALIFYING RECORD:
“I didn’t know I was on a new tire until after practice. My car felt awesome. Since we unloaded, I knew I was going fast. I’m just trying to understand. We have a little bit lighter car here. The weight is in different position, basically. I knew my stuff was fast. I didn’t know where the mark was. I’m surprised with it being this sunny. I remember when Ryan (Newman) set the pole, it was a very cool day with a lot of fast times and he blasted off a quick one. So, the track record today was not in my mindset at all. I just didn’t think it was there. But I knew I had a great driving car.
YESTERDAY, WE HAD EVERYTHING FROM RAIN AND SLEET AND SNOW. TODAY WE HAVE SUNSHINE AND A SOMEWHAT GREEN TRACK. IS THERE A POINT DURING THE RACE WEEKEND WHEN A GREEN TRACK CAN BE A DISADVANTAGE? IS THERE A PARTICULAR TRACK WHERE IT CAN BE MORE OF A DISADVANTAGE?
“Yeah, green tracks are tough to manage. I’d say concrete tracks, in my opinion, are more difficult ones to sort out. The tire wear is really high on green tracks. For here, in the Cup race, a third of the way or the halfway point, the track changes and you’ll see where we lay down right-side rubber. In the set-up you worked on Friday and Saturday is now kind of out the window and the car drives totally different because of the right-side rubber laying down. That’s the biggest challenge here that we fight. In my opinion you have a green race track until the race starts, so you’re guessing what the balance needs to be in the car and you’re hoping that the rear tire wear you see is because of the green track. Experience does help teams here to realize that hey, the track is just not there yet. Let’s stay the course. We had a successful race with whatever set-up, and fall back on your experience because a green track here, and even Dover and Bristol, can play some games with you because the balance changes pretty dramatically.”
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