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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 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finished 7th Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Earnhardt Jr. is 4th, Gordon is 1st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammate Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS won. (Photo Credit: HHP/Alan Marler for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS finished 1st, Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS finished 37th Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick  is 22nd, Kahne is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd.(Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS celebrates his win Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd. (Photo Credit: HHP/Tami Kelly-Pope for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS celebrates his win Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd. (Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford tangle during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Damage to the winshield of Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Spring is Calling Chevrolet, is repaired on pit road during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, crashes early in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, lead the field past the green flag after the initial caution ended during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, pits his car damaged by a jet dryer early in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, lead the field past the green flag after the initial caution ended during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, drives in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Ford EcoBoost Ford, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Doors / Menards Toyota, poses in Victory Lane with the trophy after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Doors / Menards Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

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