Mar 28, 2014, 6:40 PM EST
It will be a Joe Gibbs Racing front row to start Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
And while Denny Hamlin – who broke the track’s speed and one-lap elapsed time records earlier in the day in practice – is one of those two JGR drivers on the front row, it will not be on the pole.
Last week’s race winner at California, Kyle Busch, continued his momentum by winning the pole for the first time in his career at the .526-mile bullring in southern Virginia.
“What do you know? It’s Martinsville and we get to start on the pole, so it’s pretty cool,” Busch said. “There’s always a first for everything, I guess. This is pretty neat.
“Short tracks, our cars have already been great. … It’s fun to start up front. It makes things a lot easier, that’s for sure.”
It was Busch’s first pole since at Daytona last July.
Busch is still seeking his first career Sprint Cup win at Martinsville.
Conversely, Hamlin was going for his fourth career pole at Martinsville, where he is a four-time winner.
“We were just too loose really in both runs,” Hamlin said. “I felt like the track was a little green when we went out the first time and maybe used up a little bit more tire.
“Overall, it’s still a solid day for us. Second starting spot is going to give us a good pit stall, which is important here. We’re pretty pleased with how our weekend started.”
Hamlin is hoping to tweak the balance on his car a bit during Saturday’s final practice, but weather could be an impediment. Showers are predicted for part of Saturday, especially in the morning, which is also when the final Sprint Cup practice is scheduled.
“Tomorrow’s going to be frantic,” Hamlin said of Saturday’s practice and the prospect of rain. “Hopefully, we get it in.”
Still, even though he will start second, Hamlin likes his overall package nonetheless.
“It’s got good speed,” Hamlin said of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota. “(Saturday) our main focus will be keeping the tires on it as long as we can without giving up too much center turn. It’s a tough balance.”
Joey Logano qualified third, followed by eight-time Martinsville winners Jimmie Johnson (fourth) and Jeff Gordon (fifth), followed by Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, current Sprint Cup points leader Carl Edwards in eighth and Jamie McMurray.
Also of note was the performance of Danica Patrick, who earned her career-best Sprint Cup starting spot on a non-restrictor plate track.
Patrick qualified a solid 10th at Martinsville, her second career top-10 starting spot. She sat on the pole in the 2013 Daytona 500, a restrictor plate track.
Here’s how the field for Sunday’s STP 500 stacks up at Martinsville Speedway:
1 Kyle Busch 99.674 mph
2 Denny Hamlin 99.548
3 Joey Logano 99.428
4 Jimmie Johnson 99.178
5 Jeff Gordon 99.048
6 Matt Kenseth 99.048
7 Tony Stewart 98.883
8 Carl Edwards 98.846
9 Jamie McMurray 98.625
10 Danica Patrick 98.165
11 Greg Biffle 97.764
12 Clint Bowyer 97.382
13 Brian Vickers 98.965
14 Brad Keselowski 98.929
15 AJ Allmendinger 98.888
16 Ryan Newman 98.877
17 Marcos Ambrose 98.712
18 Kevin Harvick 98.708
19 Alex Bowman 98.661
20 Aric Almirola 98.625
21 Paul Menard 98.610
22 Kurt Busch 98.610
23 Casey Mears 98.599
24 David Ragan 98.599
25 Justin Allgaier 98.430
26 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 98.379
27 Kasey Kahne 98.359
28 Kyle Larson 98.333
29 Travis Kvapil 98.246
30 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 98.206
31 Martin Truex Jr. 98.200
32 Michael McDowell 98.002
33 Josh Wise 97.957
34 Austin Dillon 97.886
35 Cole Whitt 97.802
36 Landon Cassill 97.759
37 David Stremme 97.684
38 Ryan Truex 97.598
39 David Gilliland 97.458
40 Michael Annett 97.217
41 Parker Kligerman 97.078
42 Reed Sorenson 97.053
43 Joe Nemechek 96.332
Failed to qualify: David Reutimann
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
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