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Johnson starts 2012 Chase from Chicagoland pole

September 15, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com



Johnson starts 2012 Chase from Chicagoland pole
Junior fourth on time sheet, but will drop to rear after post-qualifying engine change

JOLIET, Ill. -- For Jimmie Johnson, it was an excellent first step.

Johnson will start the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup from the pole in Sunday's GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Chicagoland

Lineup
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. A. Almirola 182.636 29.567
3. M. Kenseth 182.334 29.616
4.Dale Jr.^ 182.070 29.659
5. C. Edwards 182.045 29.663
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
8. D. Hamlin 181.928 29.682
9. C. Bowyer 181.855 29.694
13. B. Keselowski 181.507 29.751
18. M. Truex Jr. 180.989 29.836
19. J. Gordon 180.874 29.855
22. G. Biffle180.523 29.913
29.T. Stewart 179.892 30.018
35.K. Harvick 179.456 30.091

The 23rd of 47 drivers to make a qualifying run in Saturday's time trials, Johnson covered the 1.5-mile distance in 29.530 seconds (182.865 mph) and waited for the rest of the field to try to knock him off the provisional pole.

"Hopefully, it'll get hotter, and things will slow down," Johnson said after his run.

Johnson got his wish. Ultimately, he edged Aric Almirola for the top spot by.037 seconds to claim his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his second in 11 tries at Chicagoland and the 27th of his career.

* Out Front with Miss Coors Light: Rachel and Jimmie

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus chose not to make a run during Friday's first practice--hence, their mid-pack position in a qualifying order determined slowest-to-fastest by speed in the first session.

"It just didn't make sense to post a fast lap with the conditions not being right," Johnson explained. "We waited till the second session to work on qualifying, so the track temp would be close. It was a tough call to make, because we didn't use all of our sets of tires to the fullest.

"I'm glad it paid off. It worked out well for us. If we were sitting here 20th, we'd be mad about what we did yesterday, and didn't spend more time on race trim in the second practice... It all worked out so far."

Johnson starts his quest for a sixth title from the top starting spot, with the rest of the Chase drivers spread through the field behind him. Matt Kenseth (182.334 mph) will start behind Johnson from the third position.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (182.070 mph) qualified fourth, with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne (181.971 mph) directly behind him on the grid in sixth. The remaining eight Chase drivers start as follows: Denny Hamlin (eighth), Clint Bowyer (ninth), Brad Keselowski (13th), Martin Truex Jr. (18th), Jeff Gordon (19th), Greg Biffle (22nd), defending Cup champion Tony Stewart (29th) and Kevin Harvick (35th).

After a crew chief swap at Richard Petty Motorsports brought Todd Parrott to the No. 43 Ford, Almirola responded with a blistering lap at 182.636 mph -- good enough to snag the outside of the front row. Carl Edwards, frustrated in his quest to make the Chase this year, will start fifth at 182.045 mph.

"We unloaded with a really good car, a really stable car," Almirola said. "It drove really nice right off the truck, so we've just been fine-tuning it. [Parrott] has made some changes just trying to get an idea of what I like.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third at Chicagoland last year from the 19th starting position. He started 25th in his 2005 win there. (Autostock)

"We're going through a little bit of that of trying to understand each other, and he is trying to understand how I want my race cars to drive. It helps when they unload right off the truck and are really fast. We've had a good car all weekend."

Earnhardt to start at rear of field after engine change

This wasn't the way Earnhardt envisioned the start to his 2012 Chase.

After qualifying fourth at Chicagoland Earnhardt learned shortly thereafter that he would be forced to start instead at the rear of the 43-car field because of an engine change to his No. 88 Chevrolet.

"Yes, we have to change the engine and go to the back of the field," said Steve Letarte, Earnhardt's crew chief. "I don't think we are super concerned. We had a great car in practice and qualified really well, so we showed we have good speed. Fortunately, this is a race track that there are multiple pit strategies and it's not a really simple straightforward pit strategy to call. I think there will be a lot of opportunities to use our good pit stops and place on pit road to get back toward the front."

Earlier, Earnhardt talked about how important earning a solid qualifying position was for Sunday's race.

"Qualifying is real important," Earnhardt said then. "Track position is real important. It's not easy to pass the competition here because the competition is so close. Looking at who has won races, nobody really stands out as winning a lot of races [so far this season]. Denny has won four, but it's pretty evenly matched from there on back.

"It's just real good, tough competition -- real hard to pass. Qualifying well is going to be real important all throughout the Chase."

Earnhardt begins the Chase as the seventh seed. He has one win this season at Michigan in June.

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Jimmie Johnson secured his 27th Cup Series pole in his 390th start.
• It's Jimmie Johnson's second pole of 2012 (Kentucky).
• Jimmie Johnson earned his second pole at Chicagoland in his 11th start.
• Chicagoland is one of just five tracks at which Jimmie Johnson hasn't won.
• Jimmie Johnson is the first repeat pole winner at Chicagoland.
• It's Hendrick Motorsports' fourth pole at Chicagoland and sixth of 2012 -- both highs.
• Aric Almirola (second) grabbed his second front-row start of the season.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr (fourth) earned his third top-five start at Chicagoland in his 12th start.
• Carl Edwards (fifth) took his third top-10 start at Chicagoland in eight starts.
• Failed to qualify: Scott Riggs, Reed Sorenson, J.J. Yeley, Jason Leffler.

-- Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM