Rain falls Gordon's way at Martinsville

Friday, Mar. 27, 2009

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Jeff Gordon liked the way things lined up for him Friday at Martinsville Speedway, and not only because rained-out qualifying means he'll line up for the start Sunday's Goody’s 500 on the pole.

"Our day has been about as perfect as we could have asked for," Gordon said after Sprint Cup cars got in their full practice but hadn't started qualifying before the fully expected rain arrived.

"It was very important for us to get laps on the track today," said Gordon, who will start first by virtue of being the Sprint Cup points leader. "If it had rained all day today and all day Saturday I would have been pretty nervous because things have changed so much."

Gordon said you never know which teams have stepped up their game at a track like this. And he pointed to the fact that Goodyear has a different right-side tire here this year, which Gordon said threw the No. 24 team "for a loop" early in Friday's practice.

Still, there are some constants about Martinsville.

There is, for instance, the advantage that the No. 1 starter gets in also having the first selection of pit stalls. Gordon said there's only one here that's really any good - the very last one as cars come onto pit road, which is - more to the point - the first one to leave from after a stop.

Give that to a driver like Gordon, who has won here seven times and finished ninth or better 26 times in 32 starts, and it seems almost like giving Tiger Woods a three-shot lead to start the back nine on Sunday.

"I wouldn't say it's that much of an advantage," Gordon said. "But it's certainly something we like a lot."

It is true that only two of Gordon's seven Cup victories have come with his start from the pole. He won the pole for this race a year ago, but finished second to Denny Hamlin.

From Gordon's standpoint, the best thing about how things worked out Friday might be that this is the season's sixth Sprint Cup race.

In the first five races each year, the previous season's points are used to determine a starting lineup when qualifying is rained out. Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, won the championship last year, so that would have put Johnson on the pole and in the only good pit stall had things not lined up the way they did.

That could have been bad news for Gordon and the rest of the field. Last fall, Johnson started first and led 339 laps on his way to his fourth victory in the past five Martinsville races and his fifth win here overall. As it stands, Johnson will start ninth on Sunday.

Kurt Busch will start alongside Gordon on the front row, with Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch in the second row. The Busch brothers have won the past three races, with Kyle winning at Las Vegas and Bristol and Kurt winning in between at Atlanta. Last year the Busches ran off a string of four straight wins (three by Kyle) to tie a NASCAR record for siblings they could match once again here.

"We hope we're able to maintain pace," Kurt Busch said. "Anytime you're in a Hendrick car, you're going to have a shot here.

"Jeff Gordon is going to be very strong, and getting the first pit box is just icing on the cake. When you have a good car, it's like the rich getting richer. Things just keep flowing your way."

Eight of the nine cars entered that have made qualifying attempts at each of the season's first five races made the race, with only the No. 09, driven this week by Sterling Marlin, missing out. Tony Raines, Dennis Setzer and Derrike Cope also failed to make the field.