Chase leader Johnson wins pole for season finale
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Anyone who assumed Jimmie Johnson would play it close to the vest with an 86-point lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup was dead wrong, if Friday's qualifying session at Homestead-Miami Speedway is any indication. With a...
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Anyone who assumed Jimmie Johnson
would play it close to the vest with an 86-point lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup was dead wrong, if Friday's qualifying session at Homestead-Miami Speedway is any indication.
With a lap at 176.788 mph (30.545 seconds) at the 1.5-mile track, Johnson won the pole for Sunday's Ford 400, edging Ryan Newman (176.569 mph) for the top starting spot. More important, Johnson made an emphatic statement to Jeff Gordon, the only other driver who can win the championship.
Gordon, Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate and the owner of record of Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet, will start 11th on Sunday after a lap at 175.171 mph. Already 86 points behind, Gordon will start the season finale with several disadvantages, not simply his starting spot relative to Johnson's.
As the top qualifier, Johnson has first choice of pit stalls for the race, and he also has an excellent chance to lead the first lap and gain five bonus points.
If Johnson finishes 18th or better -- or 19th after leading a lap -- he will clinch his second straight title.
Kasey Kahne (176.350 mph) will start third in Sunday's race, followed by Matt Kenseth (176.074 mph) and Kurt Busch (175.942 mph).
"It's very nice to cross Friday off the list and get a good night's sleep and start again tomorrow," said Johnson, who won his fourth pole of the season and the 13th of his career. "We're just doing the same things we've been doing all year long. Things are just going our way."
Nor does Johnson believe that starting and running up front will create any more danger to his championship hopes than adopting a more conservative approach.
"I will try not to make a stupid mistake and cost us this championship," Johnson said. "But I do think the safest place to be is running in the top three or top five."
Based on practice times, Newman thought Kahne would be his primary competition for the pole -- until Johnson made his qualifying run.
"I really didn't expect Jimmie to come out after practice and bust off that lap," Newman said. "I expected Kasey to be the guy to beat."
NOTE: AJ Allmendinger, John Andretti, Joe Nemechek, Michael Waltrip, Todd Bodine and Burney Lamar failed to qualify for Sunday's race.