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Johnson wins Lowe's pole with new-car record lap

Chase leader Jimmie Johnson takes pole for the latest round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup
Rain or no rain, to Jimmie Johnson, it didn't matter - at least in terms of his starting position.

After a persistent drizzle subsided Thursday afternoon, Johnson, the leader in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, put his #48 Chevrolet on the pole for Saturday night's NASCAR Banking 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, and he did so in record fashion.

Flying around 1.5-mile Lowe's Motor Speedway in 28.070 seconds (192.376 mph), Johnson posted the fastest qualifying lap ever run in NASCAR's new racecar, which was introduced to Cup competition in 2007.

He broke the mark of 190.907mph set by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Texas in April 2008, and in doing so, edged Hendrick Motorsports team-mate and second-place Chase driver Mark Martin (191.816mph) for the top spot.

The pole was Johnson's third of the season and the 22nd of his career. His has five victories at Lowe's, including four straight in 2004-2005, but hasn't won at the track since it was repaved before the 2006 Coca-Cola 600.

"Man, it's fast," said Johnson, who would have started from the pole in the event of a qualifying rainout as the top car in the standings. "You're not out of the gas long. At the end of the straightaway, it doesn't seem that fast, because you're going so fast through the turn that the novelty has worn off once you get on the straightaway.

"Whatever is going on with the tire combination right now and the track, there's a ton of grip. These cars are putting up some fast laps."

Kasey Kahne (191.056mph) will start third beside fourth-place qualifier Matt Kenseth (190.550mph), the only non-Chase driver to crack the top six. Stewart-Haas team-mates Tony Stewart (190.469mph) and Ryan Newman (190.416mph) earned the fifth and sixth starting positions during Thursday night's time trials.

Martin and Kahne also eclipsed the previous 2008 qualifying mark for the new car and expect the speed to carry over into Saturday night's race.

"An enormous amount of that speed was the track conditions," said Martin, who trails Johnson by twelve points with six races left in the Chase. "Surprisingly, it was really fast - grippy - for no rubber (after the rain). Sometimes this place needs rubber to get better.

"I think it's going to be great (Saturday). It's always great racing here and it continues to get better. And the teams continue to make the cars better."

Contact with Jeff Burton's Chevrolet during Thursday's practice damaged the nose of Juan Pablo Montoya's Chevy, but the third-place Chase driver didn't feel it hurt his qualifying effort. Nevertheless, Montoya's 18th-place starting position is his worst of the Chase so far.

Michael McDowell, Sterling Marlin, Dave Blaney and Travis Kvapil failed to qualify for the race.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



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