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JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Pole-winner Denny Hamlin exits his car during qualifying at Martinsville Speedway on Friday.
Friday, October 25, 2013
MARTINSVILLE - Sprint Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson will have a lot of interested company surrounding him when the Goody's 500 takes the green flag Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Matt Kenseth, Johnson's chief pursuer in the Sprint Cup Chase, wound up fourth. Johnson qualified second and Kyle Busch took third behind pole-winner Denny Hamlin. Translation: Johnson will start the 500-lapper as the meat of the sandwich between three Joe Gibbs Racing cars.
Hamlin, a four-time Martinsville winner, captured the pole with a track-record lap of 99.595 mph, just a couple ticks slower than the 100.074 mph practice lap turned by Clint Bowyer. Eighteen drivers broke Johnson's previous qualifying mark of 98.4 mph.
"I think the [cooler] conditions were pretty tough for everybody ... I saw a lot of guys slipping and sliding around," Johnson said.
"We were looking for one spot better so we would be in that first pit box [for the race]. Man, it's nice to be there, but we didn't get it."
In regard to being stuck in the Gibbs' trio up front, Busch said: "No doubt we're going to be running in close quarters all day Sunday."
Busch then laughed and added: "And I've got the best shot at Jimmie's left rear going into [turn] one!"
When asked if he was concerned about the situation, Johnson said: "No, maybe I should be, but not as of now. We'll all race hard, I'm sure. I've been involved in a lot of situations with each driver and we've been able to race hard and take it right to the limit without crossing it."
Where's the 43?
The No. 43 made famous by stock car king Richard Petty won't be in Sunday's race.
Aric Almirola, driver for Petty Enterprises, will be piloting a Ford emblazoned with the No. 41 in honor of Petty's brother, Hall of Fame inductee Maurice "Chief" Petty, who used the number during his 26-race driving career. The car will feature the likeness of the retired crew chief on its hood.
The Petty team has won 19 races at the track. All but four were powered by engines prepared by Maurice Petty.
Sunday's race will be the first without the iconic No. 43 in field since October 2003, when driver Jeff Green failed to qualify at Atlanta.
Sadler revved up
Elliott Sadler is driving the final four Cup races of the season in place of Brian Vickers for Michael Waltrip Racing. Vickers has been suffering from blood clots and is sitting the rest of the year.
Sadler, an Emporia, Va., native, said he's glad that Martinsville is one of the four venues.
"I don't know what you guys think is realistic or not, but we're here to win a damned race,'' Sadler told the media Friday morning. "That's the attitude we have.
"Means a lot to be racing at home, too. It's very special to come here to Martinsville. I've been coming here a long time so it's neat to kind of get this opportunity started here of all places."
Hamlin sweeps poles
Denny Hamlin was walking out of the media center after claiming the Sprint Cup Series pole and made a comment about seeing the media again.
Little did he know an hour later he'd be answering questions again after edging Johnny Sauter by 0.002 seconds to claim the pole for today's Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200.
"We have pretty lofty expectations," Hamlin said. "This is the greatest Friday I've had in a long time."
Darrell Wallace Jr., Ron Hornaday Jr. and Ty Dillon rounded out the top five. Points leader Matt Crafton qualified 13th.
Jeb Burton (Halifax), Timothy Peters (Danville), Jeff Agnew (Copper Hill), Caleb Holman (Abingdon) and Chris Jones (Forest) will start ninth, 10th, 11th, 19th and 25th, respectively.
Crafton eyes 1st title
In an era where winning is highlighted as the way to win championships, Matt Crafton is doing it through consistency. In his 13th full season as a Camping World Truck Series driver, he has finish ed 11th or better in all 18 races to build a 57-point lead over Ty Dillon heading into the final four races.
Crafton is chasing his first championship after finishing second in 2009 to Ron Hornaday Jr. Crafton finished second at Martinsville in the spring race and a similar performance would likely give him close to an insurmountable lead.
"We're going to be a little bit smarter," Crafton said. "At the end of the day, if we race hard and try to race up front and not try to points race, we should be fine."
Truck schedule released
The 2014 Camping World Truck Series schedule was released Friday and there were a few minor changes to the 22-race slate.
Gateway Motorsports Park (June 14) will take one of Iowa Speedway's two dates and New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Sept. 20) will get the Truck Series back on the schedule to replace Rockingham Speedway.
Gateway hosted a truck race every year from 1998 to 2010 and New Hampshire hasn't had a truck race since 2011.
The schedule will have a similar feel to 2013 with Martinsville hosting two races (March 29 and Oct. 25) and Kansas Speedway moving up to May 9 with a night race.
Damien Sordelett of The (Lynchburg) News & Advance contributed to this story.
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