Johnson blazes record trail to pole
The possibility of setting a Martinsville Speedway track record wasn’t something that Jimmie Johnson was thinking about when he went out to qualify on Friday for Sunday’s 500-lap Cup race.
For several minutes after winning the pole, he wasn’t aware of the accomplishment that added to a legacy at the .526-mile track that includes seven victories.
“It wasn’t until we were lining up to take (trophy) pictures that they told me,” Johnson said.
Johnson zipped around the little track at 98.400 miles per hour as six drivers topped the former mark of 98.083 set by Tony Stewart in October of 2005.
“Track records are hard to come by so I’m happy to have that,” said Johnson, who holds one other qualifying mark, at Kentucky Speedway.
“After we went out in practice, I knew we had a shot at the pole. From there, I just had to do my job and not mess up. I’m proud of that because it’s so easy to do here.”
And while Johnson’s fourth Martinsville pole was no surprise, the other driver who will line up on the front row is.
Marcos Ambrose, the road-racing specialist from Australia, matched a second-place qualifying effort here in 2010, his only top-five effort of any kind in eight previous Cup starts. Ambrose posted a lap of 88.364 in providing the biggest bright spot after not finishing or qualifying better than 18th in the first five races of the season with new crew chief Drew Blickensderfer.
His performances are part of a lackluster start of the season overall for Richard Petty Motorsports as Ambrose’s teammate Aric Almirola hasn’t finished better than 13th.
“Drew is fantastic,” Ambrose said. “I’m lucky to have him. We just have not gotten it done. We have under-performed, so we’ve got to turn our season around.”
Thomasville native Brian Vickers qualified third, making it three strong qualifying performances here from Michael Waltrip Racing.
“It was two spots not good enough, but it was good,” Vickers said. “I thought it might have been good for fifth to seventh. I told my crew chief, like ‘I’m not sure if I left something out there.’ I told him I might could have gotten into the gas a little harder but it might have broken loose, I don’t know.”
Vickers was of the opinion that the improvements made in the design of the new generation Cup car are most likely responsible for the increase in speeds.
Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and seven-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon were others who bettered Stewart’s record. Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 17th and the only Hendrick Motorsports car outside of the top six. Bobby Labonte will start 31st with Dave Blaney 39th.