Johnson Wins First Pole of Season

Jimmie Johnson

CONCORD, N.C. - The last two NASCAR Sprint Cup champions will start on the front row for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, and Danica Patrick won’t be far behind them.

Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson won the pole Thursday with a lap of 194.911 mph. Brad Keselowski, who won the series title two years ago, starts second after a lap of 194.567. This marks the sixth time this season Keselowski has started second.

Kasey Kahne starts third with Patrick fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth. This is Patrick’s best qualifying performance at a non-restrictor-plate track.

“Great day, great starting spot ... let’s hope we can do more of what we did at Kansas,’’ Patrick said, referring to her seventh-place finish there earlier this month.

Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth each did not get on the track before the end of the final session and will start 11th and 12th.

“I’m surprised,’’ Kahne said of Harvick and Kenseth not beating the clock. “That would not go over well if we missed it.’’

Said Johnson: “I’m sure there’s an interesting meeting going on.’’

Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, apologized on Twitter for the mistake.

“We had a big miscommunication tonight and didn’t get @KevinHarvick off of pit road in time to run a lap in the final qualifying session,’’ Childers tweeted. “Apologies to all of the sponsors and fans. We will make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’

Johnson, who scored his first pole of the season, is the last driver to win this race from the pole, doing so in 2004.

He was pleased with how his team progressed during the three qualifying rounds.

“We’ve watched other cars get faster through qualifying sessions,’’ Johnson said. “That’s something the (Hendrick Motorsports) cars really haven’t had a lot. We did that tonight. We’re hitting on some things that should help us run faster longer.’’

Three of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars made the final round with Johnson, Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10th). Jeff Gordon failed to advance from the first round and will start 27th.

“It just disappoints us,’’ Gordon said of his qualifying performance. “We know our car is much better than this. These are about as challenging conditions as you can have when you have a really hot day like this and the sun goes down and it’s a total guessing game. We guessed wrong. We just missed the setup. The car has plenty of speed in it, so I’m not concerned about the race.’’

Carl Edwards also will start back in the pack along with his Roush Fenway Racing teammates. Edwards starts 22nd with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 23rd and Greg Biffle 24th.

“I think we all basically had the same issue,’’ Edwards said. “Very frustrated from a performance standpoint. We thought after last week that this would have a real good shot at the pole. I don’t quite understand what we missed, but the cars were just not real fast.’’


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