Jimmie Johnson, right, heads out of the garage after qualifying for the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017. Johnson spun out during qualifying and will start at the back of the field. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Johnson spins in qualifying before Martinsville playoff race

October 29, 2017 - 2:18 pm

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson will start last in Sunday's playoff race at Martinsville Speedway because the seven-time champion spun in qualifying.

Johnson wheel-hopped his Chevrolet and spun toward the wall. He just missed grazing the barrier, but his car went to the garage for repairs. His Hendrick Motorsports team determined the No. 48 needed to change the gear and axles, so Johnson will start last in the 40-car field for the first time in his career at Martinsville.

"Fortunately didn't kill the car, so I got lucky there," Johnson said.

Johnson will start lowest of the eight remaining playoff drivers . He's a nine-time winner at Martinsville, and his victory in this race last year jump-started his run to a record-tying seventh championship.

Joey Logano, in a Ford for Team Penske, will start on the pole. He's not a playoff driver.

"I've got something to race with this week," Logano said.

Martin Truex Jr. will start second as the highest-qualifying playoff driver. He also has the most favorable pit stall because those were selected based on qualifying a week ago at Kansas.

Playoff contenders Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney will start third and fourth.

NASCAR is experimenting with a condensed two-day show at Martinsville, where qualifying was held a little more than three hours before the start of the race. Although roughly two hours of practice time was lost by dumping the third on-track day, fans did get an autograph session and Fan Fest after Saturday's two practice sessions.

The long race day, though, means Martinsville will likely make its NASCAR debut of its new $5 million LED lighting system.

NASCAR's oldest track completed the project in February and used it once, last month in a lower-level event. Because of Sunday's late afternoon start time, there was little doubt the lights — enough to brighten eight football fields with one of 15 different lighting scenes — would be flipped on at some point in the opening race of the third round of the playoffs.

The playoff field has been whittled from 16 to eight drivers, all vying for one of the four slots in next month's championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A victory at Martinville on Sunday, or at Texas or Phoenix the next two weeks, earns an automatic berth into the finale.

Johnson won from the third starting position last year. His lowest starting position in one of his nine victories was 20th in 2007.

Denny Hamlin will start sixth for Joe Gibbs Racing, while teammate Kyle Busch is 14th.

Brad Keselowski will start seventh for Team Penske and Kevin Harvick 13th for Stewart-Haas Racing.

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