Tony Stewart knows that this weekend marks the turning point in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. After losing ground to Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte, putting the pair in a dead heat for the title, Stewart came out of the box with a strong statement at Martinsville Speedway.
"It was a smooth lap," said Stewart. "We basically ran the same lap we ran in practice.it was a solid lap. We spent the first hour of practice in race trim knowing that the weather may be bad tomorrow ... we are really happy with it."
Ricky Rudd grabbed the outside pole with a lap of 97.992 mph. It marks Rudd's best start of the season.
"It's been really good since we unloaded," said Rudd. "The Motorcraft Taurus has been fast since we got off the truck. It's hard to believe we are running in the 19:30's at Martinsville."
The rumor mill has been churning for weeks, spitting out all sorts of possible scenarios regarding Rudd's retirement. Reports have indicated that this may be Rudd's final season in Nextel Cup racing.
"Let's talk about Martinsville; I know what is happening this weekend. I don't mean any disrespect. It's just not time to announce anything yet," commented Rudd when asked of competing next year.
Teammates Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman start third and fourth.
"It's my best chance to get caught up," said Wallace of the Chase and Martinsville. "I feel real good about my chances here. I like it. We brought a good car and it's got a good feel to it."
Denny Hamlin, making just his third Cup series start, will take the green flag from the fifth position, "It was a good lap for us. We picked up a tenth since practice. It was a great lap for the FedEx Chevy and I'm excited about the race."
Notably, Johnson who is tied with Stewart for first in series standings takes the green flag from the sixth spot.
"Race practice was really good," commented Johnson. "We weren't overly excited about our qualifying runs. So, we made some good adjustments and we will be fine."
Forty-nine cars attempted to make the forty-three car field. Failing to make the show were Chad Chaffin, Joey McCarthy, Carl Long, Mike Garvey, Morgan Shepard and Wayne Anderson.