MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Denny Hamlin promised he would be a factor in Sunday's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway, and he went out and proved it by leading a parade of drivers who smashed the track qualifying record.
Hamlin turned a lap at 99.595 mph around the 0.526-mile oval, the oldest and shortest in the Sprint Cup Series. It's his 17th career pole, third at Martinsville and career-best fifth this season.
"I knew we were going to be pretty strong," Hamlin said about the track where he's won four times. "I knew we had a shot at the pole and, beyond that, I think our car is pretty good in race trim as well."
Hamlin later also won the pole for Saturday's truck race, where he'll seek his third straight victory at the track.
Johnson, a five-time champion for Hendrick Motorsports, will start the race with a four-point lead over Matt Kenseth in the championship, and surrounded by Kenseth and his teammates — Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
"No," Johnson said when asked if being surrounded made him nervous. "Maybe I should be, but not as of now. We will all race hard I'm sure. We have all been, at least so far, have been a lot of situations with each driver and been able to race hard and take it right to the line, but not cross it."
Johnson and Busch actually tied in qualifying at 99.344 mph, but Johnson was awarded the second spot based on the owner points tiebreaker, moving Busch to the third spot with Kenseth alongside.
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