It was somewhat of a redeeming moment for Joey Logano. Logano scored his third consecutive Martinsville pole Friday night leading all three of the knockout qualifying sessions. The Penske Racing driver put down a fast lap of 19.513 seconds, 97.043 mph, two minutes into the final five-minute session on the .526-mile paperclip-shaped short track for the 15th pole of his career.
It marks the first time a driver has swept all three sessions since NASCAR instituted knockout qualifying in 2014 and he is the first driver to win three consecutive poles at Martinsville since Jeff Gordon did it in 2003-2004.
“Anytime you can tie Jeff Gordon with a record that he’s got here at Martinsville makes me feel good,” Logano said. “I didn’t know that was up for grabs today, but it’s nice to be able to at least get close to something he’s done here. “
Logano has 14 starts here but has yet to win at Martinsville. His best finish was second in the spring of 2010.
“We’ve figured out the qualifying part really well, but we really want to be able to win this race,” Logano said.” This is something we’ve been really close to and we have a little extra motivation coming up here this week to really show what we’re made of, so it’s nice to be able to come up here and do what we know how to do, execute qualifying like we know how to at this race track. Ever since we unloaded this morning it’s been top of the board. It’s a fast race car. We knew that. We just had to keep our heads in the game and do what we know how to do.”
That extra motivation comes from the controversial finish last October at Martinsville. Logano, who started from the pole and led 207 laps, was taken out of last year’s Chase race when Matt Kenseth drove him into the Turn 1 wall late in the race. The incident was the result of an ongoing feud between Logano and Kenseth. Kenseth was suspended for two races as a result of the incident, but Logano, who had been one of the favorites for the title, saw his championship hopes end.
“To be quite honest with you it’s hard erase it from your mind,” Logano said Friday night. “It happened. It’s in the past though, but it is something that drives you. You’ve got to use things like that to motivate you – not only you and your team. I think re-watching the race and stuff like that, if that doesn’t give you a little fire, nothing does. I know I felt really excited and really pumped up and jacked up to come to this race track and show what we’re made out of. This is a good start.”
Kasey Kahne who isn’t having a good season so far, also found some redemption Friday. The Hendrick Motorsports driver went out with just over a minute left in the final session and nearly knocked off Logano from the top spot. He will start second after missing the pole by 002 seconds. The second place starting spot is his first top five start since Talladega last fall.
“Joey just barely got us,” Kahne said. “But it is definitely a good starting spot. That was one of my goals today was to help out on pit road (by earning second pit selection). Pit road is huge here. We have the best pit crew for stops, than anyone, in my opinion. And if I can help them on pit road, myself, and get a better spot, I think all that will be beneficial on Sunday.”
Brian Vickers, who led Friday’s opening practice, qualified third at 96.864 mph. Paul Menard (96.854 mph) was fourth, followed by Ryan Newman (96.736 mph) and AJ Allmendinger (96.676 mph).
Kyle Busch secured seventh, Denny Hamlin will start eighth followed by Kenseth and Chase Elliott. Jimmie Johnson who leads all active drivers with eight was among the drivers who struggled. Johnson just made it into the second round but failed to advance, he will start 24th just behind his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. who had brake issues and qualified 21st. The full qualifying results can be found here. The full lineup here.
Sunday’s STP 500 will get the green flag just after 1 p.m. ET. Live coverage will be on Fox Sports 1 starting at 11:30 p.m.