On NASCAR's shortest track, Hamlin grabs the pole

Updated: March 30, 2007, 7:57 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Nextel Cup qualifying
Denny Hamlin
Hamlin
Denny Hamlin won the pole for Sunday's Nextel Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET), turning a fast lap of 95.103 mph on the .526-mile oval Friday. The top 10 qualifiers:

1. Denny Hamlin, Chevrolet
2. Jamie McMurray, Ford
3. Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet
4. Ken Schrader, Ford
5. J.J. Yeley, Chevrolet
6. Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet
7. Tony Stewart, Chevrolet
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet
9. Carl Edwards, Ford
10. Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet

• Grid | Surround: Martinsville

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 500.

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 ninth.

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.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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