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Johnson on pole as Keselowski falters

Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will start the Tums Fast Relief 500 race from pole on Sunday afternoon, while his main title rival Bred Keselowski slumped to 32nd.
Jimmie Johnson claimed pole position for this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup race, and it comes at a critical point of the championship with just four races remaining to decide the title before the end of the 2012 season.

"We've helped ourselves out dramatically today by qualifying on the pole," the five-time champion agreed after securing the lead spot for the start of Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 Cup race. "We've got the safest pit stall, and starting with track position is very important.

"But you've still got to go run the race," he cautioned. "When the playoffs hit, it doesn't matter what sport it is, crazy things happen ... You never know. It's going to be a long race."

Even more crucially, his main rival for the Sprint Cup - Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski, who leads the championship by seven points over Johnson coming into Martinsville - slumped to a potentially disastrous 32nd pot on the starting grid.

“I don't enjoy qualifying like crap,” said Keselowski after his disappointing time trial on Friday afternoon. "That's not what I come to the track to do, but it's been the course of late."

The concern for Keselowski is that the half-mile oval make it difficult to gain ground, while all the time the leaders are charging up close form behind and could possibly put Keselowski's #2 a lap down if there is a decent green flag stint to open the race with on Sunday.

Keselowski, naturally, was choosing to ignore that dire possibility and instead looked for silver linings to the qualifying gloom: "We take solace in the fact that in the actual racing my team has done a good job on all levels, that's what we have that's going right," he said. "I feel confident it will work its way out. It's a very long race with 500 laps around here. There's a lot of tools in our tool chest to help us recover."

All things considered, then, Johnson wouldn't be sincere if he pretended not to be thinking that this weekend presented a golden opportunity to make a decisive break for the front of the Chase at just the right moment.

"I feel really good about my Lowe's Chevrolet and I think we'll be in strong, championship-form leaving here," he admitted. "When the playoffs hit, it doesn't matter what sport it is, crazy things happen. And with that being said, yeah, we come here thinking that we should be able to get some points on the #2."




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AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #51 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2012 in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, speaks to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2012 in Ridgeway, Virginia. Earnhardt has been cleared to race after taking two races off while suffering symptoms from a concussion in Talladega. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2012 in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS stops in the pits on his way to his win Sunday, March 1, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS races to victory Sunday, March 1, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory with a burnout Sunday, March 1, 2015 after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory Sunday, March 1, 2015 after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Dow Chevrolet, spins out after an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, lead the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ben Kennedy, driver of the #11 Local Motors Toyota, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 on February 28, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmie John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, suffers a mechanical issue during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeffrey Earnhardt, driver of the #55 Fronius USA/Viva Auto Group Chevrolet, spins out during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmie John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, prepares to drive during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
David Ragan, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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