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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)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, leads the field to the green flag at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Chevrolet SS, captures the pole position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.  It is Allmendinger`s first career pole.  Allmendinger is 22nd in the standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Chevrolet SS, captures the pole position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.  It is Allmendinger`s first career pole.  Allmendinger is 22nd in the standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Chevrolet SS, captures the pole position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.  It is Allmendinger`s first career pole.  Allmendinger is 22nd in the standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, qualifies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, poses with Miss Coors Light Amanda Mertz and the Coors Light Pole Award decal after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Clint Bowyer, left, driver of the #15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, talks with Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #9 Jacob Companies Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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