At a Goodyear tyre test at Dover International Speedway in early August, Jimmie Johnson got a sneak preview of Sunday's AAA 400.
Specifically, he ran and recommended the same tyre Goodyear brought back to the track for Sunday's race and, call it coincidence, but Johnson also ran the fastest lap in Friday's qualifying session at the Monster Mile, touring the high-banked concrete track in 22.878secs to earn his second pole of the season, the 21st of his career and his second at Dover.
Johnson, who was the 28th driver to make a qualifying attempt, has four wins at Dover, including a victory in the most recent race in May, and edged Juan Pablo Montoya for top spot, after the Colombian's #42 Chevrolet was the first car on the track. Ryan Newman qualified third and Greg Biffle fourth, as Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers occupied the top four spots and six of the top seven. David Reutimann, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Sam Hornish Jr and Paul Menard completed the top ten.
Even though Goodyear brought a different tyre from the one the Cup drivers raced on in May, the set-up on Johnson's #48 Chevrolet is back for an encore performance.
"We, ironically, have shown up just like we were at the spring, and that's how we qualified the car," the champion said, "So, even with the different tyre, it seems that we've ended up with the same set-up that we had here in the spring.
"There's no doubt [tyre testing] is helpful to me. There's no doubt that it's helpful for certain levels of engineering. It's nice to go to the track and get in the rhythm of things, but we came back with the same stuff we had in the spring."
Montoya was also one of eight drivers at the Dover tyre test, as was Chase contender Denny Hamlin's team-mate JGR team-mate Kyle Busch. After practice on Friday, however, Hamlin criticised Goodyear's choice of tyres for the race.
"To say it's a benefit to tyre test, I think, is completely false because, nine times out of ten, they bring back a tyre that nobody even tested on," Hamlin said, "They'll take a lot of data from this tyre, or they'll piece together this tyre and that tyre and make a tyre that no one has run on and ends up being terrible. I think it's just crap, really."
Both Johnson and Montoya tested the tyre Goodyear ultimately brought to the track, while Busch tested different combinations. Johnson, however, pointed out that he was not among the many drivers who tested tyres at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in July.
"We didn't test at Indy, but we overcame that and won the race," he noted.
Cup points leader Mark Martin will start 14th. while the remaining Chase drivers also qualified outside the top ten - Brian Vickers in twelfth, Hamlin 13th, Kurt Busch 16th, Tony Stewart 22nd and Carl Edwards 30th.
Elsewhere, the engine in Elliott Sadler's #19 Dodge blew during qualifying, and he'll start at the rear of the field after changing power plants. Scott Wimmer was the only driver failing to qualify for the 43-car field.
by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service