Denny Hamlin proved himself a contender for Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway by claiming the pole and smashing the track qualifying record to pieces.
Hamlin turned a lap around the 0.526-mile oval at 99.595 mph, claiming his 17th career pole and third at Martinsville. The Sprint Cup driver also qualified first for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.
The Washington Post reports that the Joe Gibbs Racing driver commented after the qualifying run, “I knew we were going pretty strong. I knew we had a shot at the pole and, beyond that, I think our car is pretty good in race trim as well.”
Jimmie Johnson, who is in first place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, came in second in qualifying and will start on the front row with Hamlin. Johnson, who has won eight times at Martinsville, acknowledged that his team struggled in practice but added that they “found some direction there at the end and made some adjustments.”
The direction, and adjustments, were enough to help Johnson turn a lap at 99.344 mph, tying Kyle Busch. However, Johnson is ahead of Busch in points, so he was given second place, while Busch took third.
USA Today notes that Denny Hamlin broke Johnson’s track record by 0.048 seconds — Johnson’s car number. Should Hamlin stay on top during Sunday’s race, it could lead him to his first win in a largely lackluster year. The Joe Gibbs driver was taken out of contention for the championship earlier this year when he missed four races for a compression fracture in his back.
Now, Hamlin is ranked 24th in points and is facing his first possible winless season since 2005. While his competitors, including Johnson, may not see Hamlin as a threat to win on Sunday, given his performance this season, the Joe Gibbs driver thinks differently. He commented, “I’m pretty sure and pretty confident that we’re going to be a pretty larger force on Sunday.”
Do you want Denny Hamlin to win at Martinsville on Sunday? If not, who would you pick to win?