Jimmie Johnson took the pole position at Martinsville Speedway, edging the prior fastest driver Marcos Ambrose by merely .007 of a second around the 0.526-mile paper clip oval.
Johnson’s fastest lap of 19.244 seconds (98.400 mph) is a new track record.
“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,” Johnson said. “At that point, I just needed to do my job and not mess up.”
The race is the sixth in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and first since the controversial ending at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. two weeks ago.
Brian Vickers – one of two replacements for the injured Denny Hamlin – lines up third in the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, before he shifts to Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota next weekend in Texas. Incidentally, Hamlin’s sparring partner Joey Logano qualified fourth, ahead of Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski.
Mark Martin, deputizing for Hamlin this week, starts only 35th. That’s three spots behind Danica Patrick, in her Martinsville debut.
A diplomatic tweet from the Batesville, Ark. native: “We have 2 practices tomorrow. I look forward to getting to know the #11 FedEx car better. The guys were great to work with today.”
The lone driver that failed to qualify was Mike Bliss, a tough pill to swallow on his 48th birthday.