Jimmie's house: Johnson rockets to Coke 600 pole at Charlotte
A six-time points race winner and four-time all-star race winner at Charlotte, the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion beat out Brad Keselowski to pace qualifying Thursday night at the 1.5-mile track.
Jimmie Johnson has yet to win a Sprint Cup Series race in 2014.
Sarah Glenn / Getty Images North America
By Tom Jensen
Jimmie Johnson hasn't had a great 2014 season so far, but the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ looked like his old self at Charlotte Motor Speedway Thursday, winning the pole for Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the schedule.
In the third and final round of knockout qualifying, Johnson ran a blistering lap of 194.911 miles per hour to put his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole ahead of the Team Penske No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski, who went 194.567 mph.
Johnson's teammate, Kasey Kahne, and Stewart-Haas Racing's Danica Patrick will start their Chevys on Row 2 Sunday night, ahead of Clint Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota and Denny Hamlin in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. It was Patrick's career best qualifying effort at a non-restrictor-plate track.
Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top 10. Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth failed to get on track in time to record qualifying laps in the third and final session.
The pole was the fourth of Johnson's career at CMS, first of 2014 and 33rd of his career. Johnson leads all active drivers with six points race victories at the 1.5-mile track, which is only about two miles from the Hendrick team's shops.
The three-round qualifying format took place on the hottest day of the year in Charlotte, but with a 7:10 p.m. ET start time, the track cooled and speeds increased.
"As the sessions went on, the grip level came in," said Johnson. "The adjustments we made to the car got the car better and better. And to have my fastest lap around here come on the third time on the racetrack, it was kind of mind-boggling the way it worked out."
Johnson said he likes his chances to win on Sunday night.
"We feel good about it," said the six-time champion. "There's no guarantees, obviously, with 600 miles. A lot can happen. But we're so happy to be starting in this position instead of 20th or something."
For Keselowski, it was his seventh front-row start of the season, including one pole and six second-place efforts.
"The first round I think we ended up 24th, right on the bubble, and the second round we were seventh or eighth and almost got knocked out and then the third round we seemed to find a little bit more, but not quite enough, and ended up second," said Keselowski. "I'm proud of that effort and really happy for my guys to see their hard work rewarded, but the main goal is to win Sunday, and hopefully we can pull that off."
Kahne, always a threat to win at Charlotte, was disappointed with his final qualifying lap. "I feel like I missed it in every round," Kahne said. "Just getting into Turn 3. I wasn't as sharp as I'd been in practice or last week. We've got to work a little bit on (Turn) 3 getting to the white line faster and that type of thing. We've got to push a little harder through there."
Patrick was the fastest in the second round, busting off a lap of 194.585 miles per hour in her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Her boss, Tony Stewart, was just 18th, while the drivers 22nd to 24th were all from Roush Fenway Racing, as Carl Edwards was best in the group, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle.
Only 24 drivers advanced out of the first of three rounds of qualifying and several well-known drivers didn't make it out of the opening 25-minute stanza.
Chip Ganassi teammates Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson were 25th and 26th, respectively, followed immediately by Jeff Gordon and man of the hour Kurt Busch. Ryan Newman initially went out with three left-side tires and ended the session 42nd.
"The track is definitely different than we expected," said McMurray, the winner of last Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race here. "Some guys made the right adjustments, but we just couldn't get the front end to cut."
With 45 drivers entered, two failed to make the 43-car field. The two pilots who will miss the show are J.J. Yeley and Ryan Blaney.