On NASCAR's shortest track, Hamlin grabs the pole

3/30/2007 - NASCAR

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Denny Hamlin bounced back from a
difficult 14th-place run at Bristol last week by winning the pole
at Martinsville Speedway on Friday.

Hamlin, who was left with a pounding headache and feeling sick
by a combination of carbon monoxide and hot temperatures in the
first Car of Tomorrow race last Sunday, put his Joe Gibbs Racing
Chevrolet Impala on the point in the second straight COT race.

Hamlin's lap at 95.103 mph knocked Jeff Gordon off the top spot
early in the qualifying session on NASCAR's smallest, tightest
track, and Jamie McMurray later knocked him out off the front row
with a lap at 94.955 mph in a Ford Fusion.

Gordon, the series points leader and a seven-time winner on the
0.526-mile oval, was seeking his seventh career pole here, but
settled for the inside of the second row.

One week after Gibbs put two drivers in the top 10 in
qualifying, the owners' three cars all qualified in the top seven
with J.J. Yeley fifth and Tony Stewart seventh. Hamlin said it
appears that two years of COT research is paying dividends.

"We are one of the better teams right now, and that edge is
going to slowly go away in time," he said. "We're just going to
try to ride it as long as we can."

The pole is the fifth of Hamlin's career and first this year.

He said he learned last week while leading the race at Bristol
that being out front in the new cars is a big help, which makes
starting first especially important.

"It was a big, big deal with these cars," he said. "They
punched such a big hole. Air around that track just really got
disturbed and it seemed like once we got out front, we could just
check out. If we were third or fourth line, we were really tight."

McMurray hopes for the same experience on Sunday in the Goody's

He also was early in the qualifying order, but said he watched
the drivers before him and saw several of them appear to overdrive
their cars in the tight turns.

"I just tried to make a conservative first lap and then go
after it," he said. He's now got two good qualifying runs in a row
in the COT; last week, he started fifth.

Gordon, always one of the prerace favorite at Martinsville and
the other short tracks, said he felt his day getting better in the
last two runs during practice.

"I felt like we really hit on some things that really changed
our day," he said, allowing the team to make adjustments that made
his Impala handle better. "I definitely think we're much closer to
where we'd like to be here than we were at Bristol."

The top 10 also includes Ken Schrader, who needed to make the
field on time and drew cheers when his put the popular Wood
Brothers Ford on the second row. Until a few years ago, the Wood
Brothers team maintained its race shop in nearby Stuart.

Other Chevrolets in the top 10 include the Gibbs cars, Kevin
Harvick in the No. 6 position, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in eighth and
Johnny Sauter in 10th.

Carl Edwards is the only other Ford in the top 10. He'll start

Six drivers who attempted to qualify did not. Among them were
Brian Vickers, who burned his foot and suffered carbon monoxide
poisoning last week while running 15th at Bristol, and Ward Burton,
who crashed his primary car in practice and went to his backup.
Also out was Michael Waltrip, the penultimate driver to attempt to
make the field, who has not qualified in his Toyota since finishing
15th in the Daytona 500.