Jimmie Johnson may only need to finish 25th in Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, but the Lowe's Chevrolet driver is certainly not planning to back in to another crown. On Friday, Johnson claimed the pole position for Sunday's race by turning a lap of 31.049sec (173.919mph) around the Florida oval to edge Red Bull Racing Toyota driver Scott Speed for the top spot.
Johnson's only championship rival, Hendrick teammate Mark Martin, set the early time to beat with his Kellogg's/CarQuest Chevy, but was relegated to fourth on the final grid by Johnson, Speed and Australia's Marcos Ambrose in another Toyota.
"I'm definitely excited for the track position and having that first pit stall," Johnson said. "One thing that a lot of you (media) might know is how difficult pit road is here when the sun is setting to find your pit box and even see the parameters of your pit box. So there are a lot of reasons to qualify well and I'm very happy that we did.
"From practice to qualifying I was thinking long and hard about my lap. We got off to a slow start in practice but on the last sticker run that we made, I just tried way too hard; and I'm glad that I did because I really pushed myself and the car, and I found the limit of where traction was down in (Turns) 3 and 4. And with Mark's (Martin) great 3 and 4, it was really important for me to not give any time away down there. I'm proud of the focus I had. A lot of the laps I drove in my mind and went out there and put in a good one."
Johnson credited his teammate with putting him on the right track. "I think Mark started the indecision for everyone with qualifying practice. All of us watched what he did," he said. "I knew (Turns)1 and 2 with the shade on it; I was in the right spot. From watching the video, it seemed like a lot of guys were slow back on the gas in 3 and 4, so I really focused on that. I started on the gas really early and the car started turning and I got a little worried about corner exit and the car being loose. But, it stayed underneath me and it worked well."
Asked whether he had any concerns about starting with the relatively inexperienced Speed and Ambrose around him, Johnson replied, "Man, I typically wouldn't be, but having lived through the Texas experience (where he was crashed into by Sam Hornish Jr.), I'm not taking anything for granted. And I just need to make sure I get through the gears good and strong."
Red Bull rookie Speed matched his best career qualifying performance and will start from the outside of the front row of the grid, just as he did a year ago. Ambrose had been second up until Speed knocked him off the front row, taking advantage of running last in the order.
"I want to say, 'Nothing so special' about the lap," said Speed. "The sun going down, especially for us, it helped a lot. I think without that you would be looking at [Martin] and [Johnson] being on the front row and as it turned out I had a good [qualifying] draw and I went out dead last, in the best possible track conditions."
Martin's benchmark lap amazingly stood as the best for nearly the whole session, despite the veteran completing his run early in qualifying when the track was far from at its best, as temperatures on the asphalt were at their highest point when the session started. Martin ended up fourth on the grid for Sunday's 400-mile race.
Tony Stewart was fifth, while Kevin Harvick just missed hitting the wall during his qualifying effort, ending up sixth fastest. He was followed by fellow Chase contenders Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle, whie Bill Elliott was ninth and the best among those making the field on speed.
Several drivers had incidents during their qualifying efforts, including Reed Sorenson, Mike Skinner and David Stremme, all of whom ended up spinning while pushing the limits. Matt Crafton also hit trouble when his engine blew up at the end of his second lap.
Skinner and Stremme both failed to qualify, as did Max Papis, Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek.
Pos Driver Car Speed Time Gap
1. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 173.919 31.049s
2. Scott Speed Toyota 172.695 31.269s + 0.220s
3. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 172.678 31.272s + 0.223s
4. Mark Martin Chevrolet 172.353 31.331s + 0.282s
5. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 172.243 31.351s + 0.302s
6. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 172.145 31.369s + 0.320s
7. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 172.035 31.389s + 0.340s
8. Greg Biffle Ford 172.024 31.391s + 0.342s
9. Bill Elliott Ford 171.860 31.421s + 0.372s
10. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 171.838 31.425s + 0.376s
11. Jamie McMurray Ford 171.838 31.425s + 0.376s
12. Kurt Busch Dodge 171.794 31.433s + 0.384s
13. AJ Allmendinger Ford 171.750 31.441s + 0.392s
14. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 171.646 31.460s + 0.411s
15. Casey Mears Chevrolet 171.630 31.463s + 0.414s
16. Regan Smith Chevrolet 171.576 31.473s + 0.424s
17. David Gilliland Toyota 171.461 31.494s + 0.445s
18. Michael McDowell Toyota 171.434 31.499s + 0.45 s
19. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 171.396 31.506s + 0.457s
20. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 171.336 31.517s + 0.468s
21. Elliott Sadler Dodge 171.331 31.518s + 0.469s
22. David Reutimann Toyota 171.276 31.528s + 0.479s
23. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 171.162 31.549s + 0.500s
24. Carl Edwards Ford 170.994 31.580s + 0.531s
25. Kasey Kahne Dodge 170.967 31.585s + 0.536s
26. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 170.967 31.585s + 0.536s
27. Brad Keselowski Dodge 170.816 31.613s + 0.564s
28. Travis Kvapil Chevrolet 170.805 31.615s + 0.566s
29. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 170.794 31.617s + 0.568s
30. Kyle Busch Toyota 170.648 31.644s + 0.595s
31. Erik Darnell Ford 170.530 31.666s + 0.617s
32. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 170.454 31.680s + 0.631s
33. Brian Vickers Toyota 170.411 31.688s + 0.639s
34. Matt Kenseth Ford 170.379 31.694s + 0.645s
35. Joey Logano Toyota 170.272 31.714s + 0.665s
36. Paul Menard Ford 170.266 31.715s + 0.666s
37. Matt Crafton Toyota 169.881 31.787s + 0.738s
38. Denny Hamlin Toyota 169.715 31.818s + 0.769s
39. Michael Waltrip Toyota 169.353 31.886s + 0.837s
40. John Andretti Chevrolet 169.274 31.901s + 0.852s
41. David Ragan Ford 169.072 31.939s + 0.890s
42. Reed Sorenson Dodge 169.003 31.952s + 0.903s
43. Terry Labonte Toyota
Did not qualify:
Joe Nemechek Toyota 170.708 31.633s + 0.584s
Dave Blaney Toyota 168.940 31.964s + 0.915s
Mike Skinner Chevrolet 168.660 32.017s + 0.968s
Max Papis Toyota 168.529 32.042s + 0.993s
David Stremme Chevrolet