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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)
Smoke pours from the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, driven by Darrell Wallace Jr., during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS,  qualified for seventh position Friday, October 31, 2014 for Sunday`s Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Newman, who is in the Chase, is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, qualified for fifth position Friday, October 31, 2014 for Sunday`s Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Harvick, who is in the Chase, is eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet SS qualified for third position Friday, October 31, 2014 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Johnson is shown with his crew chief, Chad Knaus. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS qualified for second position Friday, October 31, 2014 for Sunday`s Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Gordon, who is in the Chase, leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings . (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, poses with the Henry repeating rifle pole award after qualifying for pole position for during Pinnacle Propane Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, poses with the Coor`s Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for during Pinnacle Propane Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, drives during Pinnacle Propane Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Joe Gibbs Racing`s Matt Kenseth in qualifying. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tyler Reddick, driver of the #19 DrawTite Ford, poses with the 21 Means 21 poll award after qualifying for pole position during Pinnacle Propane Qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Grainger Chevrolet, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series O`Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron`s Dream Machine Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS celebrates his 4th victory of the season with Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motor Sports, and his girlfriend, Amy Reimann, after winning Sunday, October 26, 2014 the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This is the 10th anniversary of a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash which killed 10 in Martinsville. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS races to a second place finish and Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Both Gordon and Newman are in the The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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