Jimmie Johnson won the first skirmish in this week’s Chase battle, winning the pole at Martinsville with a speed of 97.598 MPH, his third of the year. Brian Vickers will start on the front row beside Johnson after topping the charts in the only practice session of the day. Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five, and Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola complete the top 10 for the TUMS Fast Relief 500.
Qualifying up front is important at Martinsville, as cars near the back of the field are in danger of losing a lap early as there is little ground for the leaders to make up on the tail end of the pack. Because of the importance of track position, time trials could have some big Chase implications as point leader Brad Keselowski, who enters the weekend with a seven-point advantage over Johnson in the standings. Hamlin is currently third, 20 markers behind Keselowski. Both Johnson and Hamlin have multiple wins at Martinsville with six and four victories, respectively. Keselowski’s best finish at the Virginia short track is ninth, his result from the spring race this year.
The Sprint Cup teams have two practice sessions on Saturday, a 55-minute session at 9:30 AM and the final “Happy Hour” practice at noon. The weather could also play a role as Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures ten degrees colder than Friday and Saturday as well as possible winds from Hurricane Sandy.
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