For Jimmie Johnson to excel at Lowe's Motor Speedway comes as a surprise to exactly no one.
With two solid laps and an error-free pit stop — all part of the qualifying format for Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race — Johnson put his #48 Lowe's Chevrolet on the pole for the 25th running of the event.
A two-time winner of the annual all-star race and the winner of five NASCAR Sprint Cup points events at the 1.5-mile track, Johnson completed his qualifying run in 2 minutes, 1.416 seconds, more than a half-second faster than Kurt Busch (2:02.187), who will start on the outside of the front row.
Matt Kenseth will start third beside Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fourth. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon will take the green flag from the fifth and sixth positions, respectively.
The pole was Johnson's first for the all-star race, which this year features four segments of 50, 20, 20 and 10 laps to decide the winner of the $1,022,975 first prize.
Johnson stressed the importance of track position in a race that features shorter segments, particularly the final ten-lap dash.
“I think with track position as important as it's going to be in the race, to be where we are is a great situation,” said Johnson, who believes the eventual race winner will come from the front two rows on the final restart. “We focused on it hard today, and everybody did their job. So I'm real proud of the team. We worked as a unit today and executed on all fronts. I'm very pleased with that, and I look forward to (Saturday night's race).”
Busch felt the difference between his qualifying time and Johnson's may have come on the entry to pit road.
“I may have messed up a little bit coming into pit road by getting on the brakes a little too early,” he said. “And then once I got to the first timing beacon, I wasn't even in second gear to check my pit road speed. My pit crew did an awesome job in the pits.”
Qualifying for Saturday's Sprint Showdown, the qualifying event for the all-star race was rained out, and the starting positions were allocated according to the draw for qualifying order.
That put Kirk Shelmerdine on the pole and Carl Long on the outside of the front row, but both will drop back to the rear of the field to start the race - Shelmerdine for failing to present his car for inspection and Long for an engine change.
The top two finishers in the showdown, which consists of two 20-lap segments, advance to the all-star race and are joined by the winner of the fan vote — from the remaining drivers — to round out the 21-car field.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News