Johnson Rock And Rolls To Pole

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RICHMOND, Va. - Jimmie Johnson's fortunes at Richmond International Raceway are beginning to turn around.

Johnson, whose results at Richmond the previous couple of years have been less than desirable, won the spring race at the .75-mile track. Friday evening, he won the Budweiser Pole Award for Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 with a fast lap of 126.298 mph.

The Bud Pole Award is Johnson's first of the 2007 season, which puts him into the Budweiser Shootout At Daytona in February.

"I figured out how to drive this track when we were here in May and we ended up winning the race," Johnson said. "I felt like we'd be in the top five in qualifying today, but, in general, qualifying is not our strong suit. I got aggressive, the car stuck, and I put up a lap that was a couple of tenths better than the rest of the field to that point. I hit my mark, and now we'll see what happens for 400 laps tomorrow night."

Johnson, who won at California Speedway last weekend, is looking to extend his lead he hopes to carry into The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, which begins next weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway. With five victories and 50 bonus points, he's 10 points ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon going into the Chevy Rock & Roll 400.

Hendrick Motorsports took the first three positions during Friday's qualifying session. Gordon, a five-time pole winner at Richmond, qualified second with a lap of 126.342 mph, followed by Kyle Busch.

Ryan Newman qualified fifth, followed by Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, David Ragan, Elliott Sadler and Bobby Labonte.

"Hendrick Motorsports has been very strong at this track with the Car of Tomorrow, and, obviously, by finishing 1-2-3 in qualifying, it showed again," Gordon said. "I'm happy and excited about the fact that we're starting second. I felt like I left something out there. We lost 10 points to Jimmie in The Chase last week, and we'd like to get that back this weekend."

Eight drivers are locked into The Chase. Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. sit in ninth and 10th positions, respectively, in the NEXTEL Cup Series standings. Both need only to start the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 to make The Chase.

Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick hold down the 11th and 12th positions. Harvick is 128 points ahead of 13th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. and can lock down a spot by finishing 33rd or better Saturday night.

Busch qualified 14th, while Harvick qualified 13th. Earnhardt Jr. qualified 21st.

Michael Waltrip, Jeremy Mayfield, Ward Burton and Kevin Lepage failed to qualify.

The Chevy Rock & Roll 400 will take the green flag at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

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