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Originally published Friday, October 26, 2012 at 8:11 PM

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Jimmie Johnson earns pole for Sprint Cup Series event | Auto racing

Jimmie Johnson's championship hopes got a boost when he won the pole position for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.

The Associated Press

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Jimmie Johnson's championship hopes got a boost Friday when he won the pole position for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Meanwhile, points leader Brad Keselowski qualified in 32nd.

Johnson, a five-time Cup champion, gained the top starting spot for the Tums Fast Relief 500 with his lap at 97.598 mph and will have the stall at the front of pit road, giving him unimpeded access to the track.

"Track position is important, and then that pit stall is so important," he said.

Johnson trails Keselowski by seven points with four races left in the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Denny Hamlin, who is third in the points race and 13 behind Johnson, will start in fifth.

Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw will start in 15th and Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., will start in 30th. Kahne is fifth in the Chase standings and Biffle is 11th.

An additional disadvantage seemed to be the last thing Keselowski needed, primarily because his two closest pursuers in the title chase are the drivers who have dominated at Martinsville in recent years.

Johnson has won six times on the 0.526-mile, paper-clip-shaped oval, and has led 1,788 laps. Hamlin has won four times here, and led 1,127 laps.

Keselowski, making his sixth start at the track, has led two laps and finished no higher than ninth. Last weekend in the Hollywood Casino 400 in Kansas, he qualified in 25th and raced his way to finish eighth.

"I'd much rather race towards the front rather than qualify towards the front if I had to pick between the two," he said. "I feel like we'll be capable of pulling that off once the race gets started."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., returning to competition after missing two races while recovering from concussions, qualified in 20th.

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