Johnson continues Chase push with Phoenix pole
Call it an extra gear.
Call it the benefit of a late draw.
Whatever you call it, Jimmie Johnson found that extra modicum of speed in Friday's qualifying session at Phoenix International Raceway.
With a record run at 139.222 mph, Johnson won the pole for Sunday's AdvoCare 500, the next-to-last race in the 10-event Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, as the top four drivers in qualifying broke the previous mark Kyle Busch set a year ago.
It was the 19th time this season a NASCAR Sprint Cup track record has fallen.
Johnson was the 41st of 43 drivers to qualify, and he took full advantage of the late draw on a cooler track. As a result, Johnson, the Chase leader, will start 13 positions ahead of Matt Kenseth, second in the Chase points, seven points behind Johnson.
The Coors Light Pole Award was Johnson's third of the season, his second at Phoenix and the 32nd of his career. Seven of Johnson's 24 victories in Chase races have come from the pole, including his win at the fall race at Phoenix in 2008.
Denny Hamlin (139.023 mph), Kenseth's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, qualified second and promised to make things as difficult as possible for Johnson, within the bounds of racing decorum. Joey Logano (138.942 mph) will start third, followed by Kyle Busch (138.851 mph) and Jeff Gordon (138.627 mph).
Johnson's record-setting pole run was no surprise to Logano, who said the driver of the No. 48 has been on "kill mode" in recent weeks, as evidenced by his dominating win this past Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
"Just to see the speed in his car ... he unloads today and you watch in practice how fast his car was," Logano said. "It seems like when they're racing for the championship, they find that extra notch that a lot of teams can't find."
Hamlin said much the same thing.
"Those guys (the 48 team) had their struggles right before the Chase started, but I think everyone in the garage knew that they can kind of turn it up at will," Hamlin said. "This is typically the time of year that they start doing that, especially when they are in championship contention."
Johnson, however, doesn't think he or his team is doing anything out of the ordinary.
"At least the years we won championships (2006-2010), we've been able to do more than we have in the regular season," Johnson said. "It's hard when you're inside the car and inside the team to know what the difference is, because we're doing the same stuff.
"But when I look around, and I see what other champions do to win. They always seem to find a way to find a little more. Somehow we're doing it -- yes, I recognize that -- but it's not a concerted effort. It's not something that we're doing any differently. It's just what you have to do to win championships, and we're trying to rise up to the face of the 20 (Kenseth), and beat him."
The 18th driver to make a qualifying attempt, Busch was first to break his own track record. Busch covered the 1-mile distance in 25.927 seconds on Friday to knock Kevin Harvick off the provisional pole.
Busch's record run simply opened the floodgates. Logano, 24th onto the track, followed with his lap at 138.942 mph but didn't stay on top of the qualifying chart for long. Hamlin, who followed Logano in the order determined by lot, toured the irregularly shaped mile in 25.895 seconds to supplant the driver of the No. 22 Ford.
Hamlin remained on the provisional pole until Johnson posted his record lap.
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