MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Winning the pole position for the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 wasn’t big enough to be any consolation for Denny Hamlin’s lost season, but it helped.
After missing four races early in the season with a broken back and missing the Chase for the Championship, Hamlin got a little solace Friday by running the fastest lap at the Martinsville Speedway in the track’s 65 year-old history.
“Richmond is home, but this is a home-type track for me,” Hamlin said, who grew up less than two hours from Martinsville. “It hurt to watch this race in the spring, but now it feels good to come back here and run some laps and feel as comfortable as ever. Our team has put a large emphasis on this race in particular. We’ve won a race every year that I’ve been in this series and obviously this will be our best shot to get that done.”
Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota was clocked at 99.595 mph. It was the 18th track record this season for NASCAR’s new Generation-6 race car.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson, who has eight career wins at the half-mile racetrack, will start second. He will be trying to extend his winning streak at Martinsville to three races.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth will be third and fourth, respectively. Kenseth is second in the Chase standings, just four points behind.
The rest of the top-10 starters for Sunday’s race (1:30 p.m., ESPN) are: Clint Bowyer in fourth, Joey Logano in fifth, Jamie McMurray in sixth, David Ragan in seventh, Jeff Gordon in eighth, Kevin Harvick in ninth and Brad Keselowski in 10th.
After being eliminated early from playoff contention, Hamlin has become a glorified test driver at Joe Gibbs Racing. Toyota has been using new, unproven engines in his car as research, and he’s done a lot of testing to help his teammates – Kenseth and Busch – in the Chase.
Sunday’s race has been a rare opportunity this season for Hamlin, who has four wins at Martinsville, to escape the shadows.
“Our cars have had strong speed,” he said. “If we have a mechanical failure this weekend, it’s just a freak thing.”
BASELINE CONCUSSION TESTS MANDATORY IN 2014: Every driver will be required to submit to a preseason neurocognitive baseline test so it can serve as a baseline to help prevent and treat concussions.
“NASCAR made this decision because we think it is important to drivers’ health for doctors to have the best information and tools available in evaluating injuries,” said NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell.
NASCAR will use the ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) program. That test can compare a driver’s visual and verbal memory, as well as reaction time following an accident.
PIT STOPS: Teams also learned in Thursday’s meeting to expect changes in the qualifying procedure next year. NASCAR said it’s looking into running group qualifying, send out several cars at one time as it does at road course races. Qualifying at the Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway will remain its single-car procedure …