Jimmie Johnson's championship hopes got a boost Friday when he won the pole position for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway while points leader Brad Keselowski qualified 32nd.
Johnson, a five-time champion, gained not only the top starting spot, but the stall at the front of pit road, giving him unimpeded access to the track.
He trails Keselowski by seven points with four races remaining. Denny Hamlin, who is third in the points race and 13 behind Johnson, will start fifth.
Brian Vickers earned the outside starting spot on the front row, with Kyle Busch third and Jeff Burton in the second row.
Johnson says he will be cautious. He started 22nd at the track in the spring and nearly won, so he knows it can be done.
Emporia native Clint Bowyer enters the weekend forth in the points, 25 markers behind Keselowski. Bowyer will roll off 6th on Sunday.
"It was solid, but it wasn't as good as it could have been," said Bowyer. "When you're looking at the times and how close they are, it's just a matter of slipping up the least little bit here or there. Our car is really good -- it's got good speed and it's good in race trim so we move on."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun