Nancy Knapp Schilke, NASCAR correspondent
Kasey Kahne grabbed the pole for this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on the short track in Martinsville, Virginia. Kahne handled the 0.526-mile oval in his #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with a time of 19.496 for a speed of 97.128, beating Kevin Harvick by 0.016 seconds.
"It was a really solid lap. The team did a good job yesterday," commented Kahne. "We didn’t have the most speed yesterday but I felt like the car was balanced really well. I felt pretty stable going around the track. It was the same in qualifying today. It was a good lap. First pole here for myself.”
Kahne spoke about the Martinsville track plus his desire to score his first victory with his new team. “It’s a tough track to qualify. It’s a tough track to race, always has been one of my tougher ones over the years. I’m glad we can start up front and have a great pit stall in that number one stall. I think that helps throughout the whole race with track position. Hopefully we will have a solid day tomorrow. That is what we need to do. We have had great Friday and Saturday’s and just haven’t put together a Sunday yet. Hopefully tomorrow will be a nice start to a really good season.”
They have put a lot of effort into it and it pays off.
Second fastest in qualifying at Martinsville Speedway was Harvick in his #29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. His time of 97.048 (97.048 mph) landed Harvick on the front row for Sunday’s race. Said Harvick, "We were a little bit too loose. All in all, the car turned really well and that is really what we’ve been fighting so we fixed that problem. I don’t believe that I had to let out of the gas much but it was still spinning the tires."
Harvick took the win last year and hopes to drive to Victory Circle tomorrow. “It’s been a great start to the season as far as the speed in the cars, qualifying, we have raced well at different types of race tracks so its been good and has made our jobs a lot easier on Sunday to have better pit stalls and as far as calling the races from the front of the field instead of trying to gamble in the middle of the field. They have put a lot of effort into it and it pays off,” he said. Harvick is currently second in the 2012 points.
Placing his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota third fastest in qualifying was Denny Hamlin with a 19.521 (97.003 mph). Also on the second row, Clint Bowyer clocked an identical time of 19.521 (97.003 mph) for the fourth spot on the grid in his #12 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
"Third starting spot is good for us. We didn't really show a lot of good qualifying speed or really front end speed of a long run yesterday. That's good for us to be that close and after only a couple laps. I feel like once the race gets into a groove and gets going -- things get strung out, I think we'll be pretty good,” said Hamlin who added, “Yesterday we were going back and forth with a couple different setups. We feel like the Chase race here is the most important race versus this one. We're going with a little bit more of an experimental setup this time around and see how it goes. If it doesn't work then we'll just go back to our old stuff when we get back here in October. We feel like we have a good package. We didn't show the practice power that we usually do here and so it forced us to make a few changes. I feel like they obviously, even in qualifying, have been for the better."
Bowyer admitted he was surprised by his qualifying position, and he said, "It didn't feel all that good really. Our 5-hour ENERGY Toyota has had good speed in it since it's been here. That's a good start. I lost a little bit of grip up off -- kind of typical Martinsville deal. Got greedy getting in the gas, kind of shoved a little bit and I think we just ran out of real estate and it jumped sideways and you lose that momentum up off. It is what it is and we'll go after them in the race."
Ryan Newman ended fifth in qualifying, laying down a time of 96.988 (19.524 mph) in his #39 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet. He commented, “I had a good first lap, but I didn’t think that it was as good as it could be. So I tried to shine everything up, and I kind of overachieved and ended up getting loose in three and four. But we’ll take fifth.”
Not being outdone, Toyota driver for RK Motors handed the manufacturer its third car in the top six also. Brian Vickers clocked a 96.988 (19.524 mph) and after his qualifying run, he said, "It was good. I got a little greedy out of turn four and just got too much throttle and spun the tires. This was a really good effort by the guys and I'm really proud to have RK Motors on the car this week. I love the racing here at Martinsville.”
The top Dodge belonged to Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski in seventh. Kyle Busch will slot eighth on the grid followed by Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano.