For the fifth time in nine Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races, Jimmie Johnson will start from the pole.

This time, with the sun in his eyes in the first corner, Johnson claimed the top starting spot the old fashioned way - he earned it with a lap of 26.721 seconds (134.725 mph) at Phoenix International Raceway, good enough to edge Jamie McMurray (134.625 mph) for the pole for Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

With the pole comes first choice of pit box, which, for the #48 Chevrolet team, means stall number one, closest to the exit from pit road.

The two-time defending champion, who holds a 106-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards with two races left in the Chase, won the pole on speed for the third Chase race, at Kansas City, and started first in consecutive races at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Atlanta and Martinsville when rain washed out qualifying.

Johnson's qualifying performance makes things more difficult for Edwards, who will start 15th. Kurt Busch (134.529 mph) will start third, followed by David Reutimann (134.514 mph) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (134.108 mph). Greg Biffle, the only driver other than Edwards with any real hope of overtaking Johnson, starts 31st.

Johnson posted his pole-winning speed on the second of two qualifying laps, after glare from the sun adversely affected his first circuit.

"Before I went out, we put some tape on the windshield (to combat glare), and you could see really every car on pit road doing it, as soon as the first driver made a complaint about it," said Johnson, who won his sixth pole of the season (not counting the rainouts) and the 19th of his career.

"The first lap, I was shocked, because I had one level of light I was dealing with on the straightaway, and then as you turned into the corner, you went into a shadow, and then there's a gap between the top of the grandstands and the (luxury) boxes up there, and another ray of light was shooting through there.

"So it just really confused your eyes when you went bright sun, thinking you had an idea where to go, to a shadow, back to bright light to a shadow. By the time your eyes adjusted, you were at the centre point of the corner. The first lap I missed it, and the second lap I kind of had a talk with myself coming down the front stretch - that we did this in practice - and I could see my initial braking mark... and I just kind of went off of memory, what I'd been doing and the rhythm that I had in practice. And it worked out."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



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