NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson takes Coca-Cola 600 pole

jutter@charlotteobserver.comMay 22, 2014 

NASCAR Charlotte Qualifying Auto Racing

Jimmie Johnson waits in his car before qualifying for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Thursday, May 22, 2014.

MIKE MCCARN — AP

  • Thursday’s Qualifying

    StNo.DriverCarSpeed
    148Jimmie JohnsonChevy194.911
    22Brad KeselowskiFord194.567
    35Kasey KahneChevy193.618
    410Danica PatrickChevy193.334
    515Clint BowyerToyota193.244
    611Denny HamlinToyota193.119
    718Kyle BuschToyota193.092
    822Joey LoganoFord192.472
    99Marcos AmbroseFord191.673
    1088Dale Earnhardt Jr.Chevy191.272
    114Kevin HarvickChevy193.959
    1220Matt KensethToyota192.898
    1343Aric AlmirolaFord192.692
    1421Trevor BayneFord192.486
    1578Martin Truex Jr.Chevy192.438
    1655Brian VickersToyota192.027
    1751Justin AllgaierChevy191.945
    1814Tony StewartChevy191.925
    1933Brian ScottChevy191.884
    2047A J AllmendingerChevy191.829
    2127Paul MenardChevy191.707
    2299Carl EdwardsFord189.98
    2317Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Ford189.208
    2416Greg BiffleFord184.344
    2542Kyle LarsonChevy190.84
    261Jamie McMurrayChevy190.255
    2724Jeff GordonChevy189.673
    2841Kurt BuschChevy189.553
    2923Alex BowmanToyota189.514
    3095Michael McDowellFord189.148
    3126Cole WhittToyota189.115
    323Austin DillonChevy189.062
    3338David GillilandFord188.732
    3413Casey MearsChevy188.534
    3534David RaganFord188.455
    3683Ryan TruexToyota188.422
    3798Josh WiseChevyOwnPts
    3866Joe NemechekToyotaOwnPts
    397Michael AnnettChevyOwnPts
    4040Landon CassillChevyOwnPts
    4136Reed SorensonChevyOwnPts
    4231Ryan NewmanChevyOwnPts
    4332Blake KochFordOwnPts
    Failed to Qualify
    4444J.J. YeleyChevy188.062
    4577Dave BlaneyFord187.143

— He’s baccckkkkk.

Jimmie Johnson might not have won a race this season, but he is back in a position where he traditionally has found much success – leading the field of a Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Johnson got better through each of the three rounds of knockout qualifying Thursday night before capturing the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 with a lap speed of 194.911 mph in the final round.

Johnson was 13th-fastest during Round 1 and fifth-fastest in Round 2. Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth advanced to the final round but failed to start a lap before the five-minute clock expired and will start 11th and 12th, respectively.

Johnson has six Cup wins at Charlotte, the most recent Oct. 17, 2009. He is the last driver to win from the pole in the 600, doing so in 2004.

“We don’t care what anyone else has to say about this race team; we know what we’re capable of,” Johnson said. “We knew we had a great race car today. We executed and did out jobs.”

Johnson has said repeatedly during his career that qualifying has never been his strong suit.

“When we qualify well, we know we’re going to race well, so I am really optimistic,” he said.

The pole is the first for Johnson under this year’s new knockout system. Johnson’s 33 poles tie him 20th all-time with Fonty Flock on NASCAR’s top series.

Brad Keselowski qualified second-fastest, Kasey Kahne was third, Danica Patrick fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth.

Points leader Jeff Gordon will line up 27th after failing to advance out of the first round.

“It just disappoints us. We know our car is much better than this,” said Gordon, who will celebrate the 20th anniversary of his first Cup victory Sunday.

“I think these are about as challenging conditions as you can have when you have a really hot day like this. The sun goes down and it’s a total guessing game and we completely guessed wrong.

“I’m not concerned about the race. I know that we can work our way through there and be really strong in the race.”

Patrick’s starting position marks the first time she has qualified among the top 10 for three consecutive points races. She started seventh and finished 22nd at Talladega (Ala.), before lining up ninth and finishing a career-best seventh at Kansas two weeks ago.

She was sixth-fastest during Round 1 of qualifying and fastest in Round 2. Her lap at 193.334 mph was the fastest qualifying lap by a female NASCAR driver and her best starting position at a non-restrictor-plate track.

“We have a lot to be proud of. I mean let’s face it, this is the part of the weekend that I dreaded every time,” Patrick said. “I had to train myself to not say ‘I hate qualifying.’

“A lot to be proud of at Stewart-Haas. It’s going to give us a great starting spot for Sunday.”

Dave Blaney and J.J. Yeley were the only drivers who failed to make the 43-car field.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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