Jimmie Johnson claimed his first pole position of the season in qualifying for Saturday night's Sprint Cup series race at Bristol. The reigning champion ran a lap time of 15.540 seconds at an average speed of 123.475 mph, knocking Carl Edwards off the top of the charts to win his first-ever pole at the half-mile track.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver ran a low line in the banking, while Edwards ran a very high one that had seemed to be the way to go during practice. However, Johnson had run the low line for most of his practice laps.
Johnson's pole, despite being his first of the season, places him on the front row for the sixth time in the last nine races, a statistic unmatched by his rivals as the season gets closer to the Chase.
"We've been able to qualify well lately, we've just had a little trouble on the longer run on the fast tracks and we recognize that," said Johnson. "I think we have some good changes in store for our cars in those tracks but today the car has been awesome all day.
"Once [crew chief Chad] Knaus and I find out where we need to work on a given racetrack we seem to do pretty well at it. I was turning right the majority of the corner and really couldn't commit to the throttle, but I guess they say 'loose is fast'!"
Edwards continued to show improvement for Roush Fenway Racing with his front-row starting position at a track where he has won twice in the past four years. Joe Gibbs Racing's Joey Logano and Stewart Haas's Tony Stewart will start from the second row of the grid after being on provisional pole. Meanwhile Michael Waltrip Racing's David Reutimann was fifth despite food poisoning sidelining him during the first session of the day, where Aric Almirola took over his car to complete the bulk of the team's running.
Five-time Bristol winner Jeff Gordon spun on his warm-up lap but got a second chance to complete his qualifying run and ended up 26th fastest.
"That was a lot more excitement than I was looking for," said Gordon about his incident. "Just took off, I could feel the track and tyres had good grip, got down into [turn] three and the car just rotated way better than I thought it was going to and around it came. Very fortunate that I didn't damage the car any worse and didn't cross the start-finish line."
Phoenix Racing's Bobby Labonte was the highest qualifier of the non-guaranteed drivers in 30th place, right ahead of series returnee Jeff Green, who drove the No. 26 Ford for Latitude 43 Motorsports. Casey Mears just made it into the field in the final spot, taking over from Max Papis in the No. 13 Germain Racing Toyota, which he is set to drive for the rest of the season.
Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek, Kevin Lepage, JJ Yeley, Brian Keselowski and Mike Bliss all failed to qualify for Saturday's 500-lap event.
Pos Driver Car Speed Time Gap
1. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 123.475 15.540s
2. Carl Edwards Ford 122.937 15.608s + 0.068s
3. Joey Logano Toyota 122.764 15.630s + 0.090s
4. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 122.584 15.653s + 0.113s
5. David Reutimann Toyota 122.497 15.664s + 0.124s
6. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 122.372 15.680s + 0.140s
7. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 122.287 15.691s + 0.151s
8. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 122.248 15.696s + 0.156s
9. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 122.178 15.705s + 0.165s
10. A.J. Allmendinger Ford 122.154 15.708s + 0.168s
11. Kasey Kahne Ford 122.131 15.711s + 0.171s
12. Paul Menard Ford 122.131 15.711s + 0.171s
13. Mark Martin Chevrolet 122.022 15.725s + 0.185s
14. Matt Kenseth Ford 121.999 15.728s + 0.188s
15. Brad Keselowski Dodge 121.999 15.728s + 0.188s
16. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 121.968 15.732s + 0.192s
17. Denny Hamlin Toyota 121.952 15.734s + 0.194s
18. Reed Sorenson Toyota 121.890 15.742s + 0.202s
19. Kyle Busch Toyota 121.867 15.745s + 0.205s
20. Kurt Busch Dodge 121.813 15.752s + 0.212s
21. Greg Biffle Ford 121.790 15.755s + 0.215s
22. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 121.651 15.773s + 0.233s
23. Scott Speed Toyota 121.512 15.791s + 0.251s
24. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 121.474 15.796s + 0.256s
25. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 121.466 15.797s + 0.257s
26. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 121.420 15.803s + 0.263s
27. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 121.382 15.808s + 0.268s
28. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 121.290 15.820s + 0.280s
29. Regan Smith Chevrolet 121.274 15.822s + 0.282s
30. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 121.113 15.843s + 0.303s
31. Jeff Green Ford 120.999 15.858s + 0.318s
32. Scott Riggs Toyota 120.953 15.864s + 0.324s
33. Travis Kvapil Ford 120.915 15.869s + 0.329s
34. David Gilliland Ford 120.915 15.869s + 0.329s
35. Michael McDowell Toyota 120.915 15.869s + 0.329s
36. Todd Bodine Toyota 120.816 15.882s + 0.342s
37. Robby Gordon Toyota 120.763 15.889s + 0.349s
38. David Ragan Ford 120.710 15.896s + 0.356s
39. Tony Raines Ford 119.678 16.033s + 0.493s
40. Kevin Conway Toyota 119.589 16.045s + 0.505s
41. Elliott Sadler Ford 119.395 16.071s + 0.531s
42. Landon Cassill Chevrolet 119.388 16.072s + 0.532s
43. Casey Mears Toyota 120.664 15.902s + 0.362s