|Hamlin sets track record at Martinsville, grabs pole in sweet purple scheme|
Denny Hamlin won the pole for Sunday's Sprint Cup race with an average speed of 99.595 mph, but Johnson, an eight-time winner at Martinsville, qualified second. Johnson and Kyle Busch tied for second with a speed of 99.344 mph but Johnson gets the second spot based on points.
Busch, who is tied for third in the Chase, will start third, followed by Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, David Ragan, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick. Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski was 11th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12th.
Danica Patrick, who wrecked in practice, qualified 41st in a backup car.
Johnson enters the race with a four-point lead on Kenseth with four races remaining, while Busch and Harvick are 26 points back.
Johnson said it's no surprise that the top Chase drivers qualified up front again.
"Year after year, the guys racing for the championship continue to rise up," Johnson said. "It's pretty cool that everybody rises up like that, but it makes for some stressful nights."
Hamlin, who has had a miserable season after suffering a broken vertebra in his back earlier this year, has four career victories at Martinsville and vowed earlier in the day that he plans to contend for the win Sunday.
"Anytime we qualify on the pole, it usually bodes well for us on Sunday," Hamlin said.
Hamlin has had a rash for mechanical problems, including engine failures in recent weeks, as his team has been experimenting while out of the Chase. Hamlin said he is not experimenting this weekend, but going for his first win of the season. All three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers qualified in the top five.
"All three cars being in the top five is a good sign," Hamlin said. "Our cars have had strong speed. If we have a mechanical failure this weekend, it's just a freak thing."
While Johnson, Kenseth and Busch will be trying to stay up front to protect their Chase positions, Hamlin will be going all out for the win.
"It is all working out nicely for us this weekend," he said. "This is our best shot to get a win. We have a race-winning car this weekend."
- Sporting News