Efficient Joey Logano continues mastery of Martinsville qualifying

With surgical efficiency, Joey Logano continued his domination of knockout qualifying at Martinsville Speedway.

Saving his car and his tires for the final round of Saturday’s time trials at the .526-mile short track, Logano won the pole for Sunday’s STP 500 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with a lap at 97.830 mph (19.356 seconds).

Driving the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, Logano edged Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver Aric Almirola (97.643 mph) for the top starting spot by .037 seconds. Brad Keselowski (97.458 mph) qualified third, followed by Kevin Harvick (97.382 mph), as Ford drivers captured the top four positions on the grid.

The Busch Pole Award was Logano’s first of the season, his fifth at Martinsville and the 21st of his career. Logano ran only three laps total in the first two rounds, allowing him to save his tires for a four-lap run in the final round. His last lap was his fastest.

“It’s awesome to get another pole and hopefully we can top it off with another win,” said Logano, who used a victory in last year’s Playoff race at Martinsville as a springboard to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. “This is a fun race. I always look forward to coming up here.”

Logano has earned his five of the last seven contested poles at Martinsville over a nine-race span, with two of the qualifying sessions canceled because of adverse weather.

All told, Fords claimed six of the top 12 starting positions, including Team Penske drivers Logano and Keselowski and all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers—Almirola, Harvick, Daniel Suarez (10th) and Clint Bowyer (11th). In contrast to Logano’s economical runs, Bowyer had 16 laps on his tires at the end of the final round.

Five-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin paced the first two rounds but had to settle for fifth when the starting order for the top 12 drivers was decided. Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. (ninth) were the only Toyota drivers to make the final round.

William Byron was sixth fastest in the money round to lead four Chevrolets in the final 12. He was joined by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson (seventh) and fellow Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott (eighth) and Jimmie Johnson (12th), who leads active drivers with nine victories at the paper-clip-shaped track.

Trying for his third straight Cup win on Sunday—not to mention a weekend sweep of the Martinsville races—Saturday’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victor Kyle Busch will start 14th in the STP 500.

“Too loose—just didn’t have it with track conditions today,” said Busch, who opted not to make a mock qualifying run during practice.

For Byron, the sixth-place run was a welcome end to a frustrating day. Early in Saturday’s opening practice, his No. 24 Chevrolet bounced off the outside wall. Byron’s crew spent the rest of the session—and then some—repairing the car.

“I’m kind of optimistic, but we’ve had a rough day,” Byron said after qualifying. “These two-day shows are tough, and we started out with a flat right front (tire) and hit the wall. Then in second practice, we were way behind because we didn’t have enough practice time.

“The guys made a lot of great changes to get it right going into qualifying. We were really struggling over the bumps over both ends, really, and getting on the concrete (in the corners). We’ll see what happens—should be fun.”