Jimmie Johnson hasn't won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race on a road course, but now he has a leg up on that accomplishment.
Johnson turned a lap in 71.340secs (123.633 mph) Friday at 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International to win the pole for Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen, edging Kurt Busch (123.619 mph) for the top starting spot by 0.008 seconds.
The pole was Johnson's first of the season and the 20th of his career but his first on a road course. Denny Hamlin (123.093 mph) qualified third, followed by road-course ace Marcos Ambrose (123.045 mph) and David Stremme (122.824 mph), Busch's team-mate at Penkse Racing.
Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, road-course specialist Boris Said and Juan Pablo Montoya will take the green flag in positions six through tenth, respectively.
Casey Mears rolls off eleventh beside Kasey Kahne, a winner earlier this year at Infineon Raceway, who posted the 12th-fastest time. Series points leader Tony Stewart qualified 13th.
Johnson didn't put down a perfect lap, but it was fast enough.
"It was a really cool day for us, to get the pole," Johnson said. "We were close at Sonoma once or twice and lost it by small margins. But to get it done, hopefully, shows the progress that I'm making and the team is making on road courses.
"Today was just one lap, and there's a lot of laps to be made and a lot of racing on Sunday, but hopefully this is a sign of good things to come for us."
After watching Hamlin run 0.256 seconds slower than his fastest practice time, Kurt Busch decided to take a conservative approach.
"When I saw that Denny Hamlin ran a (71.65), I thought that that dropped off a bunch from his pace in practice, so that gave me the conservative mindset, and I just got beat flat out in the braking zones,” he said. "Yeah, it's tough to lose by eight thousandths, but it's a front-row starting spot, and the big prize is on Sunday."
Andy Lally qualified 15th and will make his Cup debut in Kevin Buckler's #71 Chevrolet. Tony Ave qualified 43rd in the #37 Dodge and will make his second Cup start. The first one came five years ago, also at Watkins Glen.
Joe Nemechek, Brian Simo and David Gilliland failed to qualify for Sunday's race.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News