Denny Hamlin has been through some journey this year. One of the championship favorites entering the season, Hamlin was sidelined for over a month due to a back injury suffered at the Auto Club Speedway. Since then, Hamlin’s been on the worst spell of his career.
Hamlin has won the pole for the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at the Martinsville Speedway for Sunday’s 65th annual event. The pole setting time of 19.013 seconds is a new track record, setting a blistering pace for this weekend’s event. It’s Hamlin’s third pole at Martinsville in what will be his 16th career start at the “paper clip.” Besides that, it’s also Hamlin’s 17th career pole, the fifth of his injury-plagued 2013 season.
Hopefully Hamlin will be able to do well, considering he missed this race a few months ago. Hamlin has been to victory lane at Martinsville five times, and has 12 top-10 finishes in 15 starts. Now that he needs to do well, arguably more than ever, he’s going to have to do it as an underdog.
Jimmie Johnson will start second, as he looks to cut into Matt Kenseth‘s four point championship lead. Kenseth, who isn’t known for doing well at Martinsville, looks to prove himself wrong once again, as he will start fourth. The two are looking to have a rare battle for the championship, and possibly one of the cleanest in series history.
Kyle Busch will start third, as he looks to get involved in the championship battle. Busch is currently tied for third in points with Kevin Harvick, as they’re 26 points back. Though neither of them are eliminated by any means necessary, they will probably need something to go wrong for Johnson and Kenseth throughout the last four races if they want a chance at winning the title. Harvick qualified 10th in his No. 29 Chevrolet, which is shocking considering he usually never qualifies well.
Last weekend’s Talladega winner, Jamie McMurray, took his momentum over to Martinsville after his victory and will start seventh. David Ragan shockingly qualified eighth in the Front Row Motorsports Ford. It’s the first time since John Andretti qualified 10th at Michigan a few years ago that a FRM car will start in the top-10.
Driving the No. 41 instead of the tradition No. 43 this weekend, Aric Almirola will be starting in the 18th position, as his team is honoring Maurice Petty‘s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Kyle Larson makes his return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for his second career start in the No. 51 Chevrolet. Larson will start 26th, as he looks gain experience at one of the toughest tracks in the NASCAR circuit.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.