The Hot Pass: Johnson hoping to avoid madness

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.



For the first time in his career, Jimmie Johnson posted the fastest lap in qualifying at Watkins Glen International. Johnson topped the speed chart with a lap of 71.340 seconds (123.633 mph) Friday afternoon. It was his first pole of the season and the 20th of his career. "Truthfully, in anything, second really sucks," Johnson said.
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Johnson is looking for better luck at the Glen than the only other time he started up front — that time, thanks to rain — and finished 40th. It was his only DNF in seven starts on the 2.45-mile circuit, but it underscores his difficulty with the course. Despite having 43 career Cup wins, Johnson has never posted a victory on a road course. His best performance to date is third at the Glen in 2007. However, given how the competition has ramped up its aggression over the last few races, Johnson should have an advantage at the Glen where track position is imperative. Johnson said he feels fortunate to be in control of the lead when the race begins. He's just hoping to hold on to the point following the cautions. "With double-file restarts, that first lap is going to be awfully damn exciting," Johnson said. "You get to the bus stop — on the initial start everybody is pretty calm, you don't want to be out the first lap so give and take takes place. You get three or four restarts and you lose some spots and the herd just gets agitated. "It's going to be exciting going through there. If you can stay on the blacktop — there's going to be a lot of pushing a shoving, but if you get on the grass then you're going to end up in that sand trap on the outside. If you can stay on the blacktop then you're going to be OK." But what about the remaining laps when certain competitors lose control and appear to be audtioning for "NASCAR Drivers Gone Wild?" Must race officials baby-sit the entire field or simply let the leaders race? Although NASCAR closely monitored the field at Pocono and penalized Robby Gordon and David Stremme for aggressive driving after continual contact, the sanctioning body failed to police the situation between Denny Hamlin and David Reutimann with 25 laps remaining in the Pennsylvania 500 this past Monday. Hamlin's attack on Reutimann resulted in the No. 00 Toyota spinning and collecting Marcos Ambrose in the process as both cars were running in the top 10.
Johnson believes if a driver "blatantly spins someone out" that's when NASCAR needs to take control of the situation. "Up until then it's just hard racing and truthfully, it's what fans have been asking for and what led to the change in the rules," Johnson said. "It's going to have to be to that point where you have someone deliberately just cleaning someone out before NASCAR steps in and that's how it needs to be. "Something blatant like that, they need to address, but the rest is just racing."

Stremme rebounds

Kurt Busch, who qualified second (71.348 seconds) is expected to put on a good show at Watkins Glen, but how about his Penske Racing teammate David Stremme? Stremme was a pleasant surprise with the fifth fastest lap (71.810 seconds) on Friday. Although Stremme ran the Cup event in 2007 and finished 21st, he had never made a qualifying run at the track before this weekend. "For me, it's pretty good," said Stremme. "It's just me getting more seat time. I don't have a lot of experience at this track.

Fight club

Fight club Sure, Robby Gordon and David Stremme may be a battle brewing, but they don't compare to the best NASCAR feuds of all-time.
"Sunday, I need to stay on course. If you miss one section of the corner, it screws you up for the next. As a driver, you have to discipline yourself." Stremme admits he also had a sporty car at Pocono. But after a bad pit stop, being black-flagged five laps for aggressive driving after a game of bumper cars with Robby Gordon and winding up with a 32nd-place finish on Monday, the driver of the No. 12 Dodge found a way to redeem himself at the Glen. "We all went to Road Atlanta about a month ago. It's a real fast place, and Kurt and Sam (Hornish Jr.) helped me tremendously. Kurt is one of the most underrated drivers on road courses. Sam's background in Indy cars speaks for itself. We worked on what I needed to do set up for corners and just getting up to speed."

Dreams do come true

Andy Lally drives in the Grand-Am GT Class for TRG, but at the Glen on Friday he qualified the No. 71 Adobe Road Winery Chevrolet for his first Sprint Cup event. Lally, who raced at Montreal and the Glen in the Nationwide Series in 2007, will start 15th — with fellow road ringers Max Papis and Patrick Carpentier directly behind him. "I am not going to Disneyland yet, we are just going to put our head down with these guys and start thinking about the race," said the 34-year-old Northport, N.Y. native. "We are going to focus on getting a good race car tomorrow during practice. "I can't tell you enough how much it means to me. That was the biggest pressure moment in my entire career to go one lap and try to make the field with these great drivers and the guys I have been looking up to all of my life." Veteran crew chief Slugger Labbe leads the No. 71 team.

Say what?

Nemco Motorsports thrashed to get a back up engine in the No. 87 Toyota after the primary Triad powerplant didn't carry Joe Nemechek through the first lap of practice Friday morning. "We don't have any idea what qualifying will be like," said Philippe Lopez before qualifying. "It's like putting your life savings on one number on the roulette wheel." Without practice, the best Nemechek could perform in time trials was 44th out of 46 cars and he failed to make the show.
Tagged: Jimmie Johnson, David Reutimann, David Stremme, Denny Hamlin, Marcos Ambrose, Joe Nemechek, Robby Gordon, Max Papis, Patrick Carpentier

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