MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – APRIL 08: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 LLumar Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the pole prize during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway on April 08, 2022 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Chase Elliott was the only NASCAR Cup Series driver to beat 17.7 seconds in Friday’s knockout qualifying session, earning pole position for Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway.
Driving the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Elliott covered the 0.526-mile short track in 17.694 seconds (96.151 mph) in the second round of the time trials to edge Aric Almirola for the first starting spot in the the eighth event of the 2022 season. Almirola covered the distance in 17.799 seconds (95.641 mph).
“Honestly, it surprised me that it was so fast,” said Elliott, who won the 10and pole of his career, his first at Martinsville and his first since the fourth race of 2020 at Phoenix. “I didn’t expect it to be in the 60s. I thought I had a good lap, but not a good lap… It’s good to have taken pole, it’s been a while.
“It’s always good to have a good starting place. Obviously the 400 round (Saturday) is what pays off. The most important thing, I think, that the starting point itself is the selection of stands. Having that first pit is very important and can provide you with plenty of opportunities to earn pit road seats. Hopefully we can get this thing tuned to drive like we want the second half of the race and be there and take a chance.
Almirola’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer qualified third, followed by Chris Buescher and William Byron. Kevin Harvick was sixth fastest, giving SHR three of the top six grid spots.
Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Todd Gilliland will start seventh through 10and, respectively. Larson was the only driver to run one lap to two on the opening lap, a strategy that worked for pole winner Ryan Blaney last weekend at Richmond.
But Larson locked up his tires at Turn 3 to ruin his silver lap and had to settle for eighth quickest.
Kyle Busch was second fastest in practice but missed the top 10 by 0.001 seconds and will start 11and Saturday during the first night race in Martinsville. Denny Hamlin, five-time winner on the track, will start 25and after a disappointing race on the first lap.
Can the new set of brakes change the racing dynamics at Martinsville?
Brakes have always been an issue at Martinsville Speedway, but the larger, more durable brake assembly on NASCAR’s new Next Gen Cup Series race car has the potential to change the dynamics of Saturday night’s race.
Drivers should be able to load harder in the tight turns of the 0.526-mile short track, and the brakes should be able to withstand more abuse, says No. 12 Penske Ford team driver Ryan Blaney.
But will it make a difference as to which drivers excel and Martinsville and which drivers can’t figure out the tricky rhythm track?
“You never know,” Blaney said. “Everyone adapts differently to this car. So it’s hard to say. Martinsville is a unique place. Sometimes it clicks for you, so I can see some guys who raced well there for a while are still really good, and I can see some guys who maybe didn’t race the best there- stockings are really good.
“Denny (Hamlin) has always been great in Richmond, and he’s still great in Richmond. But then you have other guys who weren’t great in Richmond who raced pretty well (in last week’s race, which Hamlin won).
“I think you will have that on all of these tracks. You’ll have guys who will always know what to do around those places and who will always be good, but this new car could suit other drivers who maybe haven’t been so good at certain tracks, and they will run well . So we’ll have a mixed bag, I think.
Richard Petty reveals the methods that made him great at Martinsville
In the history of Martinsville Speedway, no driver has achieved better results on the iconic short track than seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Richard Petty.
The “King” won a record 15 races at the 0.526 mile venue. He’s been to the site since his early days in NASCAR’s Premier League, winning the second of his record 200 races – and his first on asphalt – at Martinsville.
Petty and NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman quickly developed a knack for racing at the Southern Virginia facility.
“It was just a Richard Petty track, I guess,” Petty told NASCAR Wire Service. “It matched my driving style, and it matched Dale’s style of car tuning. It was just a good combination.
“You go to other tracks and you race well, but you only win two or three races. Fate was just a bit better for us up there.
Fate was not the only determining factor. Unlike most of the other competitors, Petty was a right foot brakeman and was never on the throttle and brakes at the same time. It helped him develop the pace needed to succeed in Martinsville.
“I could use my brakes differently than other people were doing,” Petty said. “Sunday morning of the race, we were putting on a brand new set.”
Petty credited his superior brake package with helping him earn at least half of his wins at Martinsville.
— NASCAR Wire Service —