Martinsville Pole to Hamlin
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on October 25, 2013 | 5:09 P.M. EST
Denny Hamlin collected his series-high fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup pole of the season Friday with a track-record lap of 99.595 mph at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)
MARTINSVILLE, Va. - For at least one day, Denny Hamlin left a track in a good mood after winning the pole for Sunday's Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger at Martinsville Speedway.
"You’re only as good as your last accomplishment," Hamlin said Friday.
There has been little good for him to look back on this season since being injured in a March crash at Auto Club Speedway that forced him to miss four races. He later went 16 races without a top-10 finish before ending it earlier this month at Charlotte.
Friday was something for Hamlin to smile about as he collected his series-high fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup pole of the season with a track-record lap of 99.595 mph. It’s his third career Martinsville pole. He also won the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race here.
Following him in Sunday’s Cup lineup will be the main Chase contenders. Points leader Jimmie Johnson starts second and Kyle Busch is third. Both finished with identical laps of 99.344 mph, but Johnson got second because of the tiebreaker (owner points). Matt Kenseth, who trails Johnson by four points, qualified fourth with Clint Bowyer fifth.
Joey Logano qualified sixth with Talladega winner Jamie McMurray seventh. They’re followed by David Ragan, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick.
Hamlin has admitted that he’s been in R&D mode for Joe Gibbs Racing since he’s not in the Chase, but that’s not the case this weekend.
"Everything is lined up to be successful," said Hamlin, who is using his team’s best car. "We’ve put a lot of emphasis on this race."
A victory would continue his streak of at least one win each of his eight Cup seasons. He'll face quite a challenge, with the top five drivers in points each qualifying inside the top 10.
"When we get to the end of the Chase, you’ve got to expect the best out of everybody," Johnson said. "It’s not a surprise. Each year when it gets down to crunch time, guys racing for the championship continue to rise up and put on a great show. You look at what Tony (Stewart) did a few years back, rallying back. Brad (Keselowski) and I had an awesome battle through the closing stages last year. This year, everybody that has a shot is in there and is going to be competitive.
"It makes for some stressful nights. It’s not really easy to mentally prepare for all of this stuff because you know you’re going to have to be on your game and practically win the race to pull any points on anybody. I think that’s the way the rest of the season is going to go."
"What pressure?" Busch asks. "I’ve had more fun this year than in years past. It’s certainly a lot nicer to be competitive each week and run up front. It can be somewhat frustrating as well when you're finishing one spot ahead or just a couple spots behind the guys you’re racing against. It’s challenging to make up points in those circumstances. To make up points, you definitely have to win."
Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage of Sunday's Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger from Martinsville Speedway at 12:30 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.