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Sunday, April 7, 2013
MARTINSVILLE - Danica Patrick was the leadoff hitter in the lineup of Sprint Cup drivers paraded into the Martinsville Speedway infield media center for interviews Friday.
First in line. She better have enjoyed the lead spot for nine minutes. Overwhelming odds say the Cup rookie won't ever see the lead car - unless she's lapped in Sunday's STP Gas Booster 500.
This is Patrick's first venture to "The Paper Clip," a tight .526-mile oval where cars spent much of the day playing a game of bumper tag or worse. She qualified 32nd Friday in the 43-car starting field.
When asked about his rookie driver's first Martinsville run a couple weeks ago, car owner-driver Tony Stewart said Patrick's trials and tribulations should be funny.
"Am I going to go out there and be just fine or am I going to go out there and be a total disaster?" Patrick said. "But I always feel like the more new a situation is, kind of less expectations there are and in general the less pressure and nerves go on. Being here for the first time and understanding how challenging it is, I feel like it's only up from here."
After winning the pole and finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500, Patrick's average finish in the past four races has been 31.5.
"It's been not as good as as what I had hoped for," said Patrick, 31. "Then again, I also said I'm not going to set expectation levels at this point and time. I'm going to see how it goes."
Johnson takes pole
Jimmie Johnson has taken home seven grandfather clocks - the winner's trophy - from Martinsville. He will go for
No. 8 in Sunday's 500-lapper.
Johnson will go off as the favorite after his Chevrolet captured the pole with a track-record lap of 98.400 mph Friday. Marcos Ambrose (Ford) posted 98.364 mph to take the outside pole. The top six qualifiers broke the previous qualifying mark of 98.083 mph, set by Tony Stewart in 2005.
"In order to be fast here, you have to be uncomfortable," Johnson said. "It sounds odd at such a small race track but it's true and I had plenty of uncomfortable on that lap.
"It's big. Winning the pole is huge here because you get that first pit stall and can get out of the pits a lot easier."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 17th, figures to be the heavy fan favorite Sunday. Earnhardt has an average finish of 4.5 in the first five events and leads the Cup points list by 12 over defending champion Brad Keselowski.
When asked if it was good for the sport to have Junior leading the standings, Keselowski grinned and said: "It doesn't hurt, yeah. I'd feel better if it was me.
"I like to think of him as a friend of mine and I'm happy for him to be able to do that, but certainly I want to beat him."
'Clip' tough on Fords
It's been 11 years since a Ford - 2002, driven by Kurt Busch - has won a race at Martinsville. Keselowski, whose Penske Racing Team switched to Ford after Dodge withdrew from the sport after last season, was asked why Ford hadn't won on the low-banked oval in so long.
"Is it because they didn't have have you?" the questioner posed, triggering a roar of laughter from Keselowski
"I like that because now I don't come off as cocky,'' he said. "I get that all the time: 'Boy, you sure are cocky,' and I'm like, 'What does that mean?' "
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