Jimmie Johnson will begin Sunday's race atop the Chase standings, but if he's going to stay there he'll have to overcome an interesting starting position. Johnson qualified second and will begin the race surrounded by three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates.
Matt Kenseth, who is second in the Chase standings, will start from the No. 4 position, while Kyle Busch -- third in the Chase -- will start from the No. 3 position. Busch and Kenseth will be joined at the front of the starting grid by teammate Denny Hamlin who won the pole. Hamlin did not qualify for the Chase, but said he may try to push the pace early on to possibly help out his teammates.
"I could make his life tougher in the sense of setting a pace that he has to chase or something like that," Hamlin said. "If we can get our car pretty good in race trim, I think that you could force someone to push the envelope.
"Obviously, he's won many championships -- he knows how to win ‘em. He's finished second to me here before, but yet won the championship, so he knows what he's doing. I think he probably won't let me goad him into doing something that he wouldn't normally do -- he's too good for that-but, obviously, with my teammates right there on him, they'll probably be putting a lot of pressure on him to set a fast pace."
Although Johnson may be at a slight disadvantage to begin the race, the pressure in on Kenseth. Kenseth led the Chase for the first six races, before losing the lead last week. He will need to keep up with Johnson on Sunday if he's going to have a chance to regain the lead and win the Sprint Cup. Johnson has won the last two races at Martinsville and has eight career victories at the track, the most of any active driver.
"Very happy to be here, the week was a comfortable week, one from having a decent finish at Talladega and taking the points lead," Johnson said Friday. "Then, two, rolling into a track that is historically really good for the No. 48. It's been a good week, but again that doesn't guarantee anything for the weekend. We have to go out here and get the job done and work hard."
While Johnson has excelled at Martinsville, Kenseth has struggled. He has just eight top-10 finishes in 23 career starts and has never won a race at the track. If he struggles, Johnson's four-point lead in the Chase could grow substantially.
"It's certainly a place that I know we need to come in and perform and we need to run up front and we need to get a good finish," Kenseth said. "You can almost pencil the (No.) 48 in -- anything can happen, but past history shows that they're pretty hard to beat here."
Clint Bowyer will round out the top five and he will be joined on the third row by Joey Logano. Jaime McMurray, David Ragan, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick round out the top 10. Here is a complete look at Sunday's starting grid:
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1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 99.595 mph.
2. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 99.344 mph.
3. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 99.344 mph.
4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 99.183 mph.
5. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 99.162 mph.
6. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 99.084 mph.
7. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 99.007 mph.
8. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 98.815 mph.
9. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 98.790 mph.
10. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 98.774 mph.
11. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 98.748 mph.
12. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 98.712 mph.
13. (42) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 98.702 mph.
14. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 98.656 mph.
15. (56) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 98.553 mph.
16. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 98.553 mph.
17. (39) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 98.527 mph.
18. (41) Aric Almirola, Ford, 98.410 mph.
19. (78) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 98.400 mph.
20. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 98.394 mph.
21. (14) Mark Martin, Chevrolet, 98.379 mph.
22. (31) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 98.328 mph.
23. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 98.129 mph.
24. (40) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 98.053 mph.
25. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 98.048 mph.
26. (51) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 97.972 mph.
27. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 97.855 mph.
28. (13) Casey Mears, Ford, 97.830 mph.
29. (7) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 97.780 mph.
30. (30) Cole Whitt, Toyota, 97.780 mph.
31. (35) Josh Wise, Ford, 97.674 mph.
32. (93) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 97.618 mph.
33. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 97.568 mph.
34. (47) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 97.498 mph.
35. (55) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 97.473 mph.
36. (98) Michael McDowell, Ford, 97.448 mph.
37. (36) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Owner Points
38. (32) Ken Schrader, Ford, Owner Points
39. (33) Tony Raines, Chevrolet, Owner Points
40. (87) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Owner Points
41. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Owner Points
42. (95) Reed Sorenson, Ford, Owner Points
43. (83) David Reutimann, Toyota, Owner Points