Jimmie Johnson thought somebody had traded paint with his motorhome.
Nope, that was just the wind.
The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion took advantage of those gusts to grab the poll, edging defending champion Kyle Busch for the top spot at Kentucky Speedway on Friday night.
But first Johnson had a scary moment.
”I was sitting in my motorhome, watching qualifying on television and the bus started shaking real bad,” he said. ”TV was a little behind and they weren’t talking about the winds, so for a minute I thought somebody backed into us.”
He soon found out that it wasn’t an errant driver, but rather the powerful wind that briefly suspended qualifying.
”I opened the door to look out and when I did the wind almost took the door off of the hinges,” he said. ”I said, `OK, I see what’s going on now.”’
It was Johnson’s first pole-winning run since September 2010 at Dover.
”I’ve had a lot of seconds and there is nothing more frustrating than a close second in qualifying,” he said after posting a top speed of 181.818 mph and a lap time of 29.700 seconds. ”But today went really well and I think we’ve got a good race car in race trim as well.”
The freakish windstorm – only a few spatters of rain fell from a slate-gray sky – only put the brakes on qualifying for a short time. But when the cars returned, the temperature on the track had plummeted from around 140 degrees.
”It’s amazing with the 30- to 40-degree drop that we had how much more grip there was in the track,” said Johnson, who is fourth in the Sprint Cup standings so far this season. ”But when it comes to qualifying you just have to lay it on the line and hope it works.”
Busch, the last car on the track, just missed the pole at 181.421 mph.
”We’re starting up front, which is good for us,” he said. ”I typically don’t qualify well, but this is a place where we know what we have to do.”
A crew member for the Turner Motorsports team sustained a broken hand during the blustery winds and had to be taken to a nearby hospital for observation. A spokesman said he was expected to be fine.
Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick made up the second row, with Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer – a winner last week at Sonoma – making up row three.
Hamlin said the dropping track temperature changed everything.
”By being able to go later, the track was steadily cooling off,” he said. ”Everyone who went toward the end obviously had a big advantage.”
Hamlin was also in his motorhome when the storm hit. He thought someone was playing a joke on him by walking around on his roof.
”The wind was pretty treacherous,” he said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., seventh on the grid, said everyone is trying to figure out what the surface conditions will be when the race begins.
”The track has changed quite a bit,” he said. ”We don’t know what the balance will be like.”