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Johnson grabs pole for Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In Sunday's pole qualifying for the 50th Daytona 500, Jimmie Johnson affirmed the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports -- as if it needed affirmation -- by capturing the pole for the Feb. 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup season opener.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In Sunday's pole qualifying for the 50th Daytona 500, Jimmie Johnson affirmed the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports -- as if it needed affirmation -- by capturing the pole for the Feb. 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup season opener.

Michael Waltrip backed up the improvement Toyota has shown during preseason testing by grabbing the other front-row starting spot. In the unique qualifying format for the Daytona 500, only Johnson and Waltrip know where they'll start next Sunday.

Johnson was the only driver to top 187 mph, as he powered his No. 48 Chevrolet around 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway in 48.109 seconds (187.075 mph). Waltrip, the 48th of 53 drivers to attempt qualifying, ran more than a half-second faster than Johnson on his first of two laps but couldn't squeeze enough speed out of the second lap to knock the defending Cup champion off the pole.

Waltrip covered the distance in 48.197 seconds (186.734 mph) in his No. 55 Toyota.

Sunday also brought good news for Joe Nemechek (No. 78 Chevrolet) and David Reutimann (No. 00 Toyota), who qualified third and fourth at 186.498 mph and 186.463 mph, respectively. Both drivers were outside the top 35 in owner points and consequently weren't guaranteed starting positions for the 500.

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With their efforts on Sunday, Nemechek and Reutimann locked themselves into the field, though they won't know their starting positions until the Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races sort out the order on Thursday.

Dave Blaney was fifth fastest in his No. 22 Toyota.

Johnson hadn't won a Daytona 500 pole since his rookie season in 2002. Though he finished second in Saturday's Budweiser Shootout car -- a backup car built for a short track -- Johnson withheld judgment on how his pole-winning car will behave in the qualifying races and the 500.

"We'll find out in the draft," said Johnson, who claimed the 14th pole of his career. "We haven't really had a chance to draft with this car -- we only took single car runs in practice yesterday.

"But my guess is that this Lowe's Impala is going to be awesome."

Waltrip, who last year was penalized for an illegal fuel system additive on pole day, was elated by the performance of his Camry.

"I wanted to be the fastest of the cars with a star beside them," Waltrip said, noting the designation of cars not locked into the field on owner points. "Jimmie Johnson knew he was in the race when he woke up today, and I didn't.

"I've got to think that I'm the happiest guy at Daytona today."

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NOTES: The Daytona 500 field is composed of the top 35 in owner points from last year, plus the two highest finishing cars from each of the Duel 150s not already in the race. In addition, four cars not otherwise qualified after the Duels are added to the field based on qualifying speed from Sunday, unless a past champion not otherwise qualified claims the 43rd starting position. ... Waltrip, Nemechek and Reutimann ran the three fastest laps of those in the go-or-go-home group to lock themselves into the field. Three past champions outside the top 35 (Kurt Busch, Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott) must race their way into the 500 on Thursday. ... Only one past champion's provisional is available and it goes to the most recent champion not otherwise qualified. Busch won the title in 2004, Jarrett in 1999 and Elliott in 1988.

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