Martin wins pole in last race for the Chase


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Mark Martin’s final push for a spot in NASCAR’s Chase for the championship will start from the best spot in the field on Saturday night.

Martin turned a lap of 126.808 mph in qualifying Friday night at Richmond International Raceway, edging Martin Truex Jr., whose lap came at 126.731 mph.

Unlike last week at Atlanta, when his desire to make the 10-race playoff that begins next week caused him all sorts of anxiety, Martin said he felt good before making his laps.

“I had the confidence in the car from practice and I knew what was riding on it and I felt like it was worth the risk to go out there and try to get it all,” Martin said.

“I’ll rest easy until tomorrow night.”

Martin’s sixth pole of the season matched his career best, set 20 years ago in 1989, and was his fourth on the 0.75-mile oval. It also was the 47th pole position of his career.

Martin will start the race 10th in driver points – just one ahead of 11th-place Greg Biffle, 49 ahead of Matt Kenseth and 69 ahead of Brian Vickers, who is 13th.

The top four spots in the playoffs are already clinched, and 11 drivers are vying for the last eight. Of the others with a chance to get in, Vickers will start sixth; Kyle Busch, 37 points behind, starts eighth; and David Reutimann 23rd.

Biffle has his work cut out for him after qualifying 24th.

“We’re gonna be in the back,” he said even before qualifying was finished.

Virginia native Denny Hamlin, three-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, all of whom have locked up spots in the playoff, will start in the top seven spots, while points leader Tony Stewart had a poor qualifying run and will start 29th.

Hamlin, who grew up about 15 miles from the track, is racing to win and said he was pleasantly surprised by his starting spot after feeling like he could have done better.

“I thought we had a loft left in our car,” he said.