Points leader Jeff Gordon was the major beneficiary when rain wiped out Friday's qualifying session for the Goody's Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.

With the field ordered according to owner points for Sunday's race at the 0.526-mile short track, Gordon - a seven-time winner at Martinsville - was doubly rewarded for his strong early-season performance. Not only will he start from the pole, but he also gets first pick of pit boxes and, consequently, will stop in the stall closest to the exit from pit-road.

Gordon's team-mate, three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, has won four of the last five races at Martinsville, but will start ninth in the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, preferring to have had a sunny afternoon.

"If it rains, that's cool but, at the same time, I want a shot at that first pit stall," Johnson had said Friday morning, "It's so important here, and I'd hate to give it up to Gordon, because Gordon's going to be so tough here come race time."

Johnson didn't get his wish. The qualifying rainout was the first of the season and the second straight at Martinsville after rain washed out time trials at ten of the 36 Cup races last year.

"Anybody who gets that number one pit stall, it gives them an upper hand," admitted Gordon, who has won twice from the pole at Martinsville, "There's really only one good pit stall here. It certainly is an advantage, and it's something that we like a lot. [Starting from the pole] has helped in the wins we've had, but it certainly hasn't guaranteed any of them."

Gordon, a four-time series champion, was third fastest in Friday's practice session, before rain halted on-track activity. Kurt Busch, whose #2 Dodge is second in owner points, will start on the outside of the front row. Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Johnson and Matt Kenseth will then start from positions three through ten respectively.

With Kyle having won at Las Vegas, Kurt at Atlanta and Kyle again last week at Bristol, the Busch brothers are trying to extend their victory streak to four races, a feat they accomplished last season, while Hamlin, who topped the speed chart at 96.176mph in Friday's practice, is the defending winner of the spring race.

Sterling Marlin, Tony Raines, Derrike Cope and Dennis Setzer failed to make the 43-car field under the rain-out rules that give priority to the number of qualifying attempts in a season, with owner points rank used as a tie-breaker.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service



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