Johnson Martinsville Pole Winner

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson took his third pole of the season, and second at Martinsville, with a lap of 97.598 mph. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Jimmie Johnson won the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway putting him in prime position to attempt to gain points in the championship hunt.

Johnson, who trails leader Brad Keselowski by seven in the standings, took his third pole of the season - second at Martinsville - with a lap of 97.598 mph.

The six-time Martinsville winner out qualified Keselowski by 31 positions and will now have the best pit stall at the tight half-mile oval.

"We’ve helped ourselves out dramatically today by qualifying on the pole, we’ve got the safest pit stall, and starting with track position is very important," Johnson said. "So, stats show one thing, but you’ve still got to go run the race and I feel really good about my Lowe’s Chevrolet and I think we’ll be in strong, championship-form leaving here.”

Brad KeselowskiKeselowski's qualifying effort was his worst of the season. However, in the last three Chase races Keselowski has started 20th or worse, including last week's race at Kansas Speedway where he rolled off 25th on a newly-repaved track that was difficult to pass on.

“Well I can tell you I don’t enjoy qualifying poorly," Keselowski said. "That’s not what I come to the racetrack to do but it’s been the course as of late. And you take solace in the fact that the part that matters, the actual racing, my team has done a great job preparing excellent cars and executing on all levels. You try to focus on what you have that’s going right and that’s what we have that’s going right.”

Brian Vickers, who announced earlier in the day that he would return to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013, qualified second (97.533 mph) in his last start of the season in the No. 55 Toyota.

"It's always good to be in here (media center) after qualifying -- I had the opportunity to be in here before qualifying with some good news," Vickers said. "You qualify second and you want to be really excited about it, but you're frustrated because you're not first. Especially, when you have a really good car in practice."

Kyle Busch posted his eighth top-10 start at Martinsville when he recorded the third fastest lap at 97.427 mph.

“That was a good lap for us," Busch said. "I wish I had got a little more out of it, but anytime you can beat your time in practice then you’ve done better and that’s good. The guys gave me a great car."

Jeff Burton qualified fourth and four-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin, who is 20 points back of Keselowski, will start fifth.

“We have a good starting spot. But ultimately, the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) getting the number one pit stall helps those guys," Hamlin said. "Wish we could have stepped up a little bit more on qualifying, and I thought we’d have a little better effort than that. But, still it is top-five. We can race from there.”

Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

"I feel like I missed it there a little bit and the car had a little more in it," said Kenseth, who won last Sunday at Kansas. "It’s always been challenging, but I feel like us with the 17 have been pretty competitive over the last four or five races with maybe top-five or top-10 cars and that’s really good for us here."

Bowyer along with Kasey Kahne, who qualified 15th, currently sit 25 and 30 points back in the standings, respectively.

“I still think we are in it, and still think we have a shot," Kahne said. "We are still running strong and have made up a couple points the last couple weeks, not many, but we have made up a little bit. So, anything can happen at Martinsville and hopefully we can put together a good race Sunday and gain a few more points and just keep doing that till the end and I don’t know if that will be enough because the guys we are racing against are pretty darn good. So it’s going to be tough to beat them but we are going to try.”

Mike Bliss and JJ Yeley failed to qualify for the 500-race.

Teams will get two additional practice sessions tomorrow prior to Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500.

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