Gordon wins pole for Martinsville race, other NASCAR notesMARTINSVILLE, Va. — If six races without a victory can be considered a drought for Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Gordon took the first step toward ending it Friday at Martinsville Speedway. Gordon toured the .526-mile short track in 19.666 seconds (96.288 mph) to claim the pole for Sunday’s Goody’s Cool Orange 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
By: REID SPENCER, Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
MARTINSVILLE, Va. — If six races without a victory can be considered a drought for Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Gordon took the first step toward ending it Friday at Martinsville Speedway.
Gordon toured the .526-mile short track in 19.666 seconds (96.288 mph) to claim the pole for Sunday’s Goody’s Cool Orange 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race. It was the 65th career pole for Gordon, who has won seven times at Martinsville, twice from the pole.
Denny Hamlin (95.757 mph) qualified second, followed by rookie Aric Almirola (95.733 mph), David Ragan (95.569 mph) and Jamie McMurray (95.492 mph). Almirola will make his second Cup start of the year Sunday, and McMurray had to make the race on speed, having dropped out of the top 35 in owner points.
Kasey Kahne, Ken Schrader, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson will start from positions six through 10. Johnson has won the last three races at Martinsville, and Johnson and Gordon together have won eight of the last 10 (four each).
“We were a fifth or sixth-place car in practice — the car was tight,” Gordon said. “I’m really, really excited by what (crew chief) Steve Letarte and his crew did today. We made a lot of adjustments, and they certainly were the right ones.
“It impressed me to run the kind of lap we did. I didn’t think it was possible.”
Hamlin, who has posted four top-10 finishes in five starts at Martinsville, expects to be in the mix with Gordon and Johnson again on Sunday.
“I’m usually the guy that runs right behind them,” said Hamlin, who finished third behind the Hendrick teammates last spring. “I think we’re maybe more prepared for those guys this year. Typically, when we come here, we know we can run top-three, and those two cars are the ones you have to beat.”
Rookie Dario Franchitti was the last driver to make the race on speed, bumping Kyle Petty from the field. The two drivers ran identical times (20.128 seconds), but Franchitti made the race because his car is ahead of Petty’s in the owner point standings.
John Andretti, Tony Raines and Joe Nemechek also failed to qualify.
Gordon is fourth on the all-time list of pole winners behind Richard Petty (126), David Pearson (112) and Cale Yarborough (70). ... Michael McDowell qualified for his first Cup race, earning the 34th starting position in the No. 00 Toyota. ... Sunday’s race will mark Almirola’s first top-10 start in eight Cup races.