Penske's Joey Logano continued to shine on the track by clinching pole position for Sunday's Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Martinsville Speedway.
Logano has won the last three races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway to establish himself as the clear favourite in the 2015 Chase for the championship title, and he showed no sign of that dominant form flagging as he dominated Friday's qualifying session at the half-mile 'Paperclip' for this weekend's event.
Logano took the top spot with a lap of 19.215s (98.548mph), notably slower than the track qualifying record of 18.954s (99.905mph) set this time last year by Ganassi's Jamie McMurray. It's Logano's sixth pole of the season - more than he amassed un the last three seasons combined. Among his poles so far this season was the spring race at Martinsville. It's his 14th pole in total from 252 Cup starts.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying results from Martinsville Speedway
"It's an amazing run we're on right now," said Logano. "This Shell/Pennzoil team is unbelievable. I'm just the lucky guy that gets to drive this thing right now. It's so much fun. We're doing everything right, but all of that can end in a blink of an eye, so we just have to keep our focus.
"Starting first here, and really anywhere towards the front here at Martinsville, pays off bigger than probably most race tracks. Having that great pit stall up front as well as staying up towards the front and keeping your fenders on it the whole race is important."
Although Logano has now won half of the races in the Chase play-offs to date, he comes into Martinsville with no advantage over the other seven drivers still in contention for the title. Following last week's race at Talladega, all the remaining contenders have had their points levelled up and are now once again equal coming into this weekend's race.
Logano will share the front row on Sunday with another Chase contender, Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr., who was just 0.012s slower in his final round qualifying run.
"We had a plan coming in and honestly didn't really know going into qualifying that we'd have that good of speed. In every round, we just kept making adjustments and got it better," said Truex. "Honestly I didn't know we had a car that was that fast today. We stuck with it."
Two non-Chase contenders take up positions on the second row, with JTG Daugherty Racing's AJ Allmendinger bouncing back from adversity in practice to lay claim to third place alongside last year's pole winner McMurray.
"My guys fixed all my mess-ups," said Allmendinger. "I hit the wall four times in a row in practice and that was the biggest thing. I thought we had a good car, I just kept trying to destroy it. They did a good job [fixing it.]"
Two Chase contenders make up the third row, with Hendrick Motorsport's Jeff Gordon next to Joe Gibbs Racing Kyle Busch.
"I don't think anybody had a shot at Joey really," said Gordon. "He's in a league of his own and he has been here, qualifying all year. But we wanted to make a big effort at it and I felt like we did.
"The first two rounds went exactly as planned and it didn't feel too bad there [in the final round] but just lacked a little bit of speed. When you go to three rounds it really changes things dramatically, trying to save tyres and see how hard you can push it and keeping up with the balance. I thought we executed really well and came up a little bit short."
"It's not bad," said Busch of sixth place on the grid. "It's probably about what's to be expected for me around this place. I feel better in race trim so that's definitely a positive. We just got what we got today with qualifying trim. Not too bad, hopefully we can get down on the early start of the race and get to the bottom."
Having been eliminated from the Chase last week, Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman will start this week's race from seventh alongside Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola. Ganassi's Kyle Larson lines up in ninth place alongside JGR's Denny Hamlin, who missed out on making it through to the third round of the Chase after suffering a disastrous issue with a roof flap last weekend at Talladega.
Logano's Penske team mate Brad Keselowski will start from 11th place on Sunday, with reigning champion Kevin Harvick in 12th in the Stewart-Haas Racing #4. "I felt like we had a pole-winning car, but it is what it is," commented a disappointed Keselowski.
"We were just too tight," was Harvick's equally concise summary of why he was unable to compete for a better position in the final round of qualifying.
Harvick's team mate (and car owner) Tony Stewart just missed out on making it into the final round of qualifying by just four thousandths of a second. He will start in 13th place, just ahead of the final two Chase contenders Carl Edwards (JGR) and Kurt Busch (SHR).
"I just wasn't fast enough the very first run," sighed Edwards. "I put a run on the tyres and got us a cycle behind everyone. It's okay, we're going to be just fine. I think in my history of qualifying here, this is still about 10 spots better than normal. We have a fast pit crew, the car is a lot better than it was in practice."
With the exception of Gordon, it was a frustrating session for the Hendrick line-up all of whom have already now been eliminated from the Chase. Jimmie Johnson could only manage 21st place putting him just one position ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"The first round I was real happy with the car. The second round we didn't have any grip. I don't know. Made some bad adjustments I guess, but the car just didn't have any grip," said Earnhardt. "We are going to race good. We don't ever qualify good here, we just keep shooting ourselves in the foot."
Meanwhile the situation was even worse for the fourth member of the team, with Kasey Kahne spinning out and hitting the wall in turns 1 and 2 in the first round, inflicting heavy damage to the #5 car that will mean he will have to start from the back of the field in the backup car for Sunday's race.
"First two laps felt okay, but I felt that I needed more speed so I held it out too late, turned in," he explained. "It broke and I lifted off the throttle, like everything at once. It wheel-hopped it and its totally screwed up. We had a good Great Clips Chevrolet in practice and I knew it was just a matter of doing it right."
Kahne and the rest of the field will have two practice sessions on Saturday to get their cars dialled into an optimal race set-up. The 500-lap, 263-mile race itself will get underway at 1.15pm local time on Sunday afternoon. There are 43 entries for the event, meaning that all cars qualified and will take the green flag.
See full NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying results from Martinsville Speedway
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