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Cup starting lineup at Martinsville

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Fords flexed their muscle during Saturday’s qualifying, grabbing the first four spots and six of the first 11 for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Joey Logano will start from the pole, alongside Aric Almirola. Brad Keselowski will start in Row 2, alongside Kevin Harvick.

Row 3 will have Denny Hamlin and William Byron. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott make up Row 4, while Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez will start from Row 5.

Click here for the full row-by-row Cup starting lineup.

Note that the starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.

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Joey Logano holds off Aric Almirola for Martinsville pole

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Led by defending NASCAR Cup Series champion and pole sitter Joey Logano, Fords dominated qualifying, capturing the four top spots for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Logano covered the .526-mile oval with a speed of 97.830 mph, earning the 21st pole of his Cup career — with five of those now coming at Martinsville.

“You just have to be so precise and pushing yourself so hard in the corners, and a mistake is such a penalty,” Logano told Fox Sports 1. “It was awesome to get another pole here at Martinsville and hopefully we can top it off with … another win in the books.”

Aric Almirola was second fastest (97.643 mph), followed by Brad Keselowski (97.458), Kevin Harvick (97.832), Denny Hamlin (97.362), William Byron (97.202), Kyle Larson (97.098), Chase Elliott (97.053), Martin Truex Jr. (97.018), Daniel Suarez (96.830), Clint Bowyer (96.706) and Jimmie Johnson (96.573).

It appeared as if Almirola might take the pole, but Logano overtook him with just 34 seconds remaining in the final round.

“I just barely missed it by a little bit, and that’s all it takes,” Almirola told FS1. “We came up close, but just not enough.”

Kyle Busch failed to advance to the final round of qualifying. He’ll take the green flag Sunday from the 14th position in the 1,000th overall NASCAR start of his career. Just before Cup qualifying, Busch won the 201st race of his NASCAR career in the Truck Series race.

Click here for full qualifying results.

NOTES:

* The starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.

* Daniel Suarez was penalized for speeding on pit road during the final round, but managed to bounce back for another try to earn the 10th starting spot.

* Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first qualifying attempt was disallowed for speeding on pit road. He came back on-track to try again before the session expired, but could go no faster than 25th, failing to advance to the second round. “I didn’t feel I was going that fast (on pit road),” Stenhouse Jr. told Fox Sports 1. “Either way, our first or second time wasn’t good enough to make it. Definitely not the qualifying effort we wanted.”

* Cody Ware and Cory LaJoie did not make qualifying attempts, having to work on their race cars after being involved in wrecks during Saturday’s practice sessions.

* Sunday’s STP 500 (500 laps/263 miles) will take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Clint Bowyer fastest in first Cup practice; Corey LaJoie crashes

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Clint Bowyer paced Saturday morning’s practice at Martinsville Speedway, where he scored his first victory for Stewart-Haas Racing a year ago.

Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford turned a 97.673-mph lap on the 0.526-mile oval in the first session for Sunday’s STP 500. Teammate Daniel Suarez was second fastest, followed by Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

“Our Ford is pretty fast,” Bowyer told FS1. “With more downforce, it enables you to roll the corner faster, but it’s still the same old Martinsville.”

Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10.

There were two incidents during 50-minute session. Corey LaJoie heavily damaged the right front of his No. 32 Ford with a hard impact in-between Turns 1 and 2 because of a brake problem.

LaJoie was OK after the crash but lamented losing a car. “There is no coffee strong enough that will wake you up like losing brakes into Turn 1 at Martinsville,” he told FS1. “It’s not a good feeling losing brakes. It’s unfortunate because small teams like ours, we don’t really bring a backup that’s fully ready to go, so my guys have a lot of work ahead of them.

“Obviously our backup’s not going to be as good as our primary. Hopefully, they can work on the backup and make it just as good.”

In the opening minutes of the practice, William Byron also hit the Turn 2 wall and damaged his right front of his No. 24 Chevrolet after suffering a punctured right-front tire.

His team was able to make repairs to put his primary car back on track.

The No. 34 Ford of Michael McDowell was held out for 15 minutes at the end of the first session because of multiple prerace inspection failures before the March 17 race at Auto Club Speedway.

Click here for speeds from the first practice at Martinsville.

Friday 5: Will Martinsville provide another memorable door-banging finish?

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Last fall’s Martinsville race was memorable for a finish that saw Joey Logano move Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead on the final lap to win and earn a spot in the Championship 4 in Miami.

As the series returns to the half-mile Martinsville Speedway this weekend, what are the chances of such action repeating?

“I would say that it’s probably not going to be, there’s less of a chance that it will be like that,” Truex said. “Just because it’s not a race to get into the final four. I would think it would be tame and normal like we’ve seen there in the past.”

Logano disagrees.

“I see a trophy on the line,” said the reigning series champion. “A big clock (given to the winner). I don’t see that any different from the spring to the fall.”

The first race of the season at a track less than 1 mile will test drivers and could lead to aggressive actions. The question is how aggressive will drivers be.

“The (driver) code has definitely changed,” said nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson. “People reference the code a lot. But I think ultimately whatever code exists is between the two drivers. And that same code might not exist between driver C and driver D or driver A and driver D; it just changes all the time.

“When I look at it, sure it was a very aggressive move and Joey knew what he was doing to get that win and I’m sure we’ll expect the same to come back from Martin at some point. … In my eyes, sure it was aggressive but it could have been a lot worse.”

2. A familiar refrain

Coming off his dominant run on the West Coast swing, Kyle Busch heads to a type of track he’s ruled lately. Busch has won five of the last nine Cup races on tracks less than 1 mile in length.

Busch’s wins have been at both Richmond races in 2018, the spring Bristol race in 2018 and fall race there in 2017 and at Martinsville in fall 2017.

Teammate Denny Hamlin, whose last win at a track less than 1 mile in length was at Richmond in Sept. 2016, explains Busch’s success.

“He works tremendously hard at his craft,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think it’s just all natural talent. I think he works very hard as well.”

3. Perfect attendance

Ross Chastain is the only driver who has competed in every national series race this season. That’s five Cup, five Xfinity and three Truck races. He’s entered in this weekend’s Truck and Cup races at Martinsville.

Chastain has been running at the finish in every race. He’s completed 98.7 percent of the laps run in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks this season (2,498 of 2,532 laps run).

Such a schedule was expected entering this season. He had a deal to drive select races for Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series. He also was set with a Cup ride with Premium Motorsports.

Chastain was to have raced for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series but those plans went away after the FBI raided the headquarters of sponsor DC Solar and home of the DC Solar’s CEO. With DC Solar unable to fulfill its sponsor obligations, Chip Ganassi Racing shuttered its Xfinity team. That forced Chastain to look for other options.

He’ll drive three races for Kaulig Racing (he drove for the team at Daytona) and the rest of JD Motorsports this season.

So far this season, Chastain finished 10th in the Daytona 500 — giving Premium Motorsports its second top 10 in 231 Cup starts — placed seventh at Las Vegas for JD Motorsports and was third in the Daytona Truck race for Niece Motorsports.

4. “Like what I don’t like”

Xfinity rookie Justin Haley enters the off-weekend for the series 12th in points with a season-best finish of eighth at Atlanta.

Haley placed 10th last weekend at Auto Club Speedway and explained what he needs to do to have better finishes.

“I just need to get better on the feel from practice to the race, how the car transitions and goes through the process of loose and tight,” the Kaulig Racing driver told NBC Sports. 

Haley, who finished third in the points in the Truck series last year, said that experience can’t help him with what he’s seeking to improve upon this year.

“A lot of the times the Truck races are at night, so it’s gripped up,” Haley said. “These are day races, it transitions a lot. Really these Xfinity cars have less downforce. The Trucks, if you were good at the start of the run, you were going to be good at the end. There was no falloff really. Even at like Atlanta, the balance stayed the same. These things (Xfinity cars) take a huge swing throughout the run. So just getting a feel for that is the biggest thing.

“What I like most of the time isn’t what’s fastest, so I have to learn to like what I don’t like to make it fast.”

5. Ever return?

Martin Truex Jr. was asked last weekend at Auto Club Speedway if he thought Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser would return to NASCAR after shutting his team down after last year.

Said Truex: “We talk every week. He’s been watching. He’s been talking to us and telling us we’ve been doing a good job, and things like that. I think it’s probably a bit of a relief for him that he doesn’t have to worry about all of the things that come with being a team owner and he’s just able to enjoy it.

“I told him he needs to get to the track soon, we’d like to see him and get him around. As far as your question on whether he’ll be back, if you mean as a team owner? I have no idea. We haven’t talked about it. He hasn’t mentioned it. My best guess is no, but I guess you can never rule out anything.”

Martin Truex Jr. has ‘unfinished business’ at Martinsville Speedway

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Something’s gotta give for Martin Truex Jr.

Truex enters this weekend’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway on a quiet hot streak. In the four races since the Daytona 500, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has alternated runner-up finishes at Atlanta and Phoenix, along with eighth-place finishes at Las Vegas and Fontana this past Sunday.

Dating back to the 2018 season finale in Miami Truex has three runner-up finishes in the last six races.

Truex has also placed in the top five nine times since he last won in July at Kentucky Speedway (22 races).

But there’s a good chance Truex can improve his fortunes this weekend with the return to the half-mile track in Martinsville, Virginia.

Truex has top-five finishes in his previous three visits to Martinsville. You may remember the most recent one in October.

Truex started 33rd after his car failed inspection and slowly climbed his way to the front, eventually leading 18 laps. It ended in a riveting duel with Joey Logano over the last few laps and Logano executing a bump-and-run on Truex in the final turn on the last lap.

Truex finished third.

“We’ve certainly got some unfinished business going into Martinsville this weekend,” Truex said in a press release. “It’s a place that wasn’t one of my favorites early in my career, but the last few years, I feel like I’ve really started to get a handle on it.”

Somehow, some way Truex is seeking not only his first Martinsville victory, but his first short-track win in 79 attempts in the Cup Series.

Martinsville has been the short track Truex has come closest to getting a win at. He’s crashed out of the last two races at Bristol and in his last 10 starts there he’s led in just one.

He’s had winning cars at Richmond, but a combination of wrecks and issues on pit road have prevented him from winning after leading more than 675 laps in four of his last five starts there.

So with Truex seeking redemption on multiple fronts with a win – which would be his first for JGR – maybe Martinsville arrived just in time.

“It would mean a lot to win (at Martinsville), especially after how the last race there ended up,” Truex said. “I’m confident that we’ll have a fast SiriusXM Camry this weekend and be right there to have a shot at the end of the race.”