MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson put himself in prime position to take command of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship by claiming the pole Friday for the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Johnson’s lap of 19.40 seconds at 97.598 mph gave him his third pole of the season and 28th of his career at Martinsville Friday, a track where he has six career Sprint Cup victories. Brian Vickers put the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota second on the starting grid.
The pole position for Johnson, currently second in the Sprint Cup standings, could be a huge opportunity as he battles for his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Current championship leader Brad Keselowski qualified a miserable 32nd Friday at Martinsville, his worst starting position of the year.
“When the playoffs hit, it doesn’t matter what sport it is, crazy things happen,” said Johnson, who is only seven points behind Keselowski entering Sunday’s race. “With that being said, yeah we come here thinking we should be able to get some points on the 2 (Keselowski), but you never know. It is going to be a long race.
“We helped ourselves out dramatically today by qualifying on pole. We’ll have the safest pit stall and track position is very important. Stats show one thing, but you’ve still got to go run the race,” Johnson said.
Kyle Busch qualified third for Sunday’s 500-mile event, followed closely by Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin.
The go-or-go-homers that qualified for Sunday’s race include Michael McDowell, Josh Wise, Scott Riggs, Joe Nemechek, Reed Sorenson, David Stremme, Stephen Leicht and Scott Speed.
Mike Bliss and J.J. Yeley failed to qualify.