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Martinsville qualifying: Johnson wins pole; Kahne, Gordon and Earnhardt in top 17

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, won the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway. He set a new track record with a lap of 19.244 seconds (roughly 98.400 mph) to record his third career pole at the half-mile oval and a team-best 17th for Hendrick Motorsports.

His Hendrick Motorsports teammates will line up inside the top 17. Kasey Kahne will roll off the grid fifth, Jeff Gordon will start sixth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will line up 17th when the field takes the green flag on Sunday. Race coverage will begin at 1 p.m. ET on FOX/MRN.

ATOP THE STANDINGS: After five races, Earnhardt leads the driver standings following a second-place finish two weeks ago in Fontana, Calif. Earnhardt is the only competitor to have finished inside the top 10 in each of this season’s five races, and, for the first time, the 10-time Most Popular Driver has led the standings in consecutive seasons. Earnhardt last held the points lead after the August 2012 race at Pocono Raceway. He also sat atop the driver standings in 2004.

SEASON-TO-DATE: Kahne ranks first among Cup drivers during the first five 2013 races in several categories including fastest drivers early in a run (4.750 ranking) and green-flag speed (4.500). The 32-year-old driver also is tied for first with Matt Kenseth for laps led with 223 total. Kahne has started from the outside pole twice and inside the top six for two events this season.

DRIVER RATINGS: Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt rank inside the top four in the driver rating category for the last 16 races at Martinsville Speedway. Johnson tops the list with a driver rating of 122.3, while Gordon sits second (120.9) and Earnhardt is fourth (99.8). The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes. The maximum a driver can earn in each race is 150 points. The driver rating number is used pre-race as a prediction tool and post-race as a performance evaluator.

KAHNE THE CLOSER: Kahne currently ranks fourth in positions gained in the final 10 percent of races run at Martinsville Speedway in the last eight years. He has improved a total of 28 positions in the closing stages at the half-mile paper clip.

HENDRICK BESTS AT MARTINSVILLE: Hendrick Motorsports has recorded its most wins, top-five finishes and top-10s at Martinsville. The organization has 19 victories there, with Johnson most recently reaching Victory Lane at the short track in October 2012. During that race, three Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished seventh or better to give the organization 104 career top-10s at Martinsville. That figure is a team-best for Hendrick and ranks as more than any other team has acquired at any Cup track in NASCAR history.

MARTINSVILLE DUO: Johnson and Gordon rank tied for first among active drivers with seven wins apiece at the paper-clip oval. Gordon leads active drivers at the Virginia short track in the following statistical categories: top-five finishes (25), top-10s (32) and laps led (3,515). Gordon also ranks first among active drivers with a 7.2 starting position, and Johnson ranks first with an average finish of 5.5

HISTORICAL MOMENT: On April 29, 1984, Geoffrey Bodine scored the first Cup win for Hendrick Motorsports when he drove the No. 5 Chevrolet to Victory Lane at Martinsville. Bodine started the race sixth, but climbed his way to the front and led 55 laps before taking the first checkered flag for team owner Rick Hendrick. 

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