MARTINSVILLE, VA. — Kyle Busch won Friday’s qualifying at Martinsville Speedway, while his teammate, Denny Hamlin, finished second to give Joe Gibbs Racing the front starting row for Sunday’s STP 500.
Busch, who won last Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., made a lap around this 0.526-mile, paperclip-shaped oval at 99.674 mph during the second and final round of qualifying. The driver of the No. 18 JGR Toyota claimed his 14th career pole in the series.
“What do you know? It’s Martinsville, and we get to start on the pole,” said Busch, who scored his first pole in 19 starts at this track. “It’s pretty cool. There’s always a first for everything, I guess.”
Busch has now won a pole in NASCAR’s top series in seven consecutive seasons. He has yet to win a Cup race at Martinsville. His best finish here is second, which came in October 2012.
“It’s fun to start up front, and it makes things a heck of a lot easier, that’s for sure,” Busch added.
Hamlin, who drives the No. 11 Toyota for JGR, qualified on the outside pole five days after he was forced to miss the race in Southern California for medical reasons. He had a small piece of metal in his eye, which affected his vision and prevented him from racing there. Hamlin was taken to the hospital where doctors removed the sliver of metal from his eye. He was medically cleared to race at Martinsville after having a series of evaluations earlier this week in North Carolina.
Earlier in the day, Hamlin topped the speed/time charts in practice. The Chesterfield, Va. native was the only driver who topped the 100 mph in the lone session. His lap at 99.548 in round 2 of qualifying was 0.024 seconds behind Busch.
“It was a solid qualifying effort for us,” Hamlin said. “I kind of knew while I was running the lap [in round 2] that it wasn’t a pole-type lap. Surprisingly, it ended up being close. Just fought loose most of the time. The track was pretty free. It was tough. These cars are putting down more horsepower than they ever have, so it’s harder and harder to get your car to come off of the corner. And that’s what we fought through the two sessions.”
Joey Logano set a new track qualifying record at Martinsville when he turned a lap at 100.201 mph during round 1. Logano’s best lap in round 2 was 99.428 mph, which placed him third on the starting grid. Hamlin held the previous track qualifying record at 99.595 mph, set last October.
“I’m a little mad about our second run there,” Logano said. “I felt like we really had a shot at the pole, but overall, I feel like our car is decent for Sunday.”
Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion, qualified fourth, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, took the fifth spot. Both drivers have eight wins each at Martinsville. Johnson won last year’s spring race here, and Gordon took the checkered flag for the fall event.
Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray and Danica Patrick qualified sixth through 10th, respectively. Patrick improved significantly in qualifying after she had placed 29th on the charts in practice.
“Just got to expect the unexpected, I guess,” Patrick said. “I think that our practice started off a little bit rough, because you go out with all those cars out on the track. I was following another car, and he was not coming up to speed and ended up getting passed by 15 cars in the first five laps. You’re just not really getting up to speed and in a rhythm, so we didn’t really put a lap in at the beginning.
“And then in our qualifying runs, I feel like we improved a lot, but we still needed something. That was something [crew chief] Tony [Gibson] gave me for qualifying. That is the difference.”
Patrick had her best qualifying finish at a non-restrictor-plate track in her Sprint Cup career. She won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500, but her best qualifying result on a track other than Daytona and Talladega had been 21st, which occurred in last year’s Atlanta race and the fall event at New Hampshire.
After qualifying either first or second in the previous four races, Brad Keselowski failed to make it into the second round at Martinsville. Keselowski placed 14th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also struggled in qualifying with a 26th-place finish.
David Reutimann was the only driver who failed to qualify for Sunday’s race, which is scheduled to start just after 1 p.m. ET.