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Johnson snares pole for finale

Points leader Jimmie Johnson snares pole for the final round of the NASCAR season at Homestead
Jimmie Johnson kept his promise - to try to qualify up front - and at the same time took another giant step toward his record fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

Turning a lap in 31.049 seconds (173.919 mph), Johnson won the pole for Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Rookie Scott Speed, the last driver to attempt a qualifying lap, took advantage of the late draw and claimed the second starting position for the Cup finale at 172.695 mph.

Johnson, who can lock up the Cup title with a finish of 25th or better at the 1.5-mile track, said he "lessened the odds" of a title-robbing calamity by earning the top starting position. The pole is Johnson's fourth of the season, his second at Homestead and the 23rd of his career.

Marcos Ambrose qualified third at 172.678 mph, followed by Mark Martin, who is second in the Cup standings, 108 points behind Johnson. After the field takes the green flag Sunday, Martin will be the only driver with a chance to overtake his teammate for the championship.

"I'm definitely excited for the track position and (the choice of) that first pit stall," Johnson said. "One thing that you probably might know is how difficult pit road is here, with the sun setting, to find your pit box, or even see the parameters of your pit box. So there's a lot of reasons to qualify well, and I'm very happy that I did.

"There is some relief, but at the same time, I'm trying to keep it simple - yes, today's behind us, sleep well tonight, but treat tomorrow like a whole new day, first day at the track, start all over again."

Both Speed and Ambrose, hardly regulars at the front of the starting field, vowed to race Johnson hard, but respectfully.

"I think the thing we all fear most is being the idiot who takes out the 48 (Johnson) and ends the four-championship streak," Speed said.

Joe Nemechek, Dave Blaney, Mike Skinner, Max Papis and David Stremme failed to qualify for the 43-car field.

Terry Labonte will start 43rd on a past champion's provisional. Reed Sorenson spun during the second of his two qualifying laps but will start 42nd on an owner points provisional.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



Related Pictures

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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, wins the pole award after qualifying first for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2009 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates with champagne and crew chief Tony Gibson in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, wins, causing his crew to celebrate Sunday, April 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, races to victory Sunday, April 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory with a burn-out Sunday, April 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory Sunday, April 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Energizer Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Cars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 26, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
A detail view of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series logo as rain falls prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 25, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
People walk on pit road as rain falls prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 25, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #20 Hisense Toyota, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, lead the field to start during the NASCAR XFINITY Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway on April 24, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #20 Hisense Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR XFINITY Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway on April 24, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #20 Hisense Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway on April 24, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #20 Hisense Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway on April 24, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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