MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson knew he had a fast car the minute he pulled it onto the track at Martinsville Speedway.
The seven-time winner on NASCAR’s shortest, trickiest track backed it up in qualifying with a track record.
Johnson made his fastest lap around the 0.526-mile oval at 98.400 mph Friday, leading a parade of six drivers who broke Tony Stewart’s track record speed of 98.083 mph. It is Johnson’s 30th career pole, and third in 23 starts at Martinsville.
That’s the icing on the cake, Johnson said when told of the record. That makes the day even better yet. Track records are hard to come by, so I’m very proud of that and happy to have that.
Five other drivers also eclipsed Stewart’s mark on a cooling, later afternoon surface, led by Marcos Ambrose at 98.364.
Ambrose arrived 23rd in points after five races.
Yeah, it can turn us around, no doubt, Ambrose said. We proved today that if we get our stuff right we can do it. We’ve just got to get some momentum and get some confidence back.
He was followed by Brian Vickers, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon.
The race is one of nine Vickers will run for Michael Waltrip Racing in a job share with Mark Martin and Waltrip.
It was two spots not good enough, but it was good, Vickers said.
Rookie Danica Patrick qualified 32nd in her first career appearance at the shortest track run in NASCAR’s premier series.
Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 17th.
In Birmingham, Ala., Helio Castroneves paced the first day of IndyCar practice at Barber Motorsports Park.
Castroneves ran a 1:08.5540 around the 17-turn, 2.38-mile permanent road course in his Penske Racing Chevrolet. Castroneves won the inaugural race at Barber in 2010, and teammate Will Power is the two-time defending champion.
Alex Tagliani was second fastest in his Bryan Herta Autosports Honda, followed by rookie Tristan Vautier of Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports.
Vautier was fastest in Friday’s first session despite going off course.