David Reutimann won the pole for Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but when the race starts, the focus won't be at the front of the field.
Jimmie Johnson, a heavy favourite to win his third straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, will have to deal with traffic and avoid potential disaster early in the race after qualifying 30th in Friday afternoon's time trials. Carl Edwards, 141 points in arrears and the only driver with a mathematical chance to overtake Johnson, starts fourth.
Reutimann used a late qualifying draw to his advantage in posting a lap at 171.636 mph (31.462 seconds). That was fast enough to edge Scott Speed (171. 461 mph), who switched cars with Red Bull Racing team-mate Brian Vickers in a play to get the No. 84 Toyota that Speed usually drives into the top 35 in owner points.
Vickers qualified 20th in the No. 84, which is 36th in owner points, 17 behind the No. 47 Camry driven by Marcos Ambrose, who qualified 41st.
Matt Kenseth (171.429 mph) qualified third, followed by Edwards (171.418 mph) and Kevin Harvick (171.043 mph). With his 14-year streak of at least one victory each season in jeopardy, Jeff Gordon will start 37th.
"We got a fairly late draw and got a little cloud cover, and that helped a little," Reutimann said. It's a great way to start your weekend, starting up front and getting a great pit selection."
Johnson had problems at the start of his two-lap run and never recovered.
"I had some trouble coming to the green," Johnson said. "I lost some time trying to take the green flag and get going from there. So it's probably not the qualifying effort that we wanted, but we had a great practice and have a great car and we'll be just fine.
"We'd love to start up front and we'd love that first pit stall pick because we all know how important that is. But it's just not for us today, but this team, in the past, we've shown our strength many times…"
Edwards' crew chief, Bob Osborne, said he his primary mission will be to keep his driver up front for the entire race.
"But I'm sure Jimmie will be coming pretty fast," Osborne said.
Reid Spencer/Sporting News