Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Johnson takes the first pole on speed, 2011 pole was set by practice speeds due to rain
With temperatures surpassing the 100 degree mark at Kentucky Speedway on Friday, competitors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series braved the heat to make qualifying attempts for the Quaker State 400 to be held at the track Saturday night.
Jimmie Johnson claimed the first Sprint Cup pole at Kentucky with a 29.700-second lap in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Rain cancelled qualifying for last year's event, meaning the field for the 2011 race was set by the NASCAR rule book.
I got a lot of laps around this race track.
"I got a lot of laps around this race track," Johnson said. "When I came into the Cup Series we were testing here and I got a lot of laps just trying to understand what the Cup car was like and working on new things with the race team because we had a year to prepare and get ready before I started at the Cup level with the No. 48 team."
Last year's race winner Kyle Busch qualified second with a 29.765-second lap in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to line up next to Johnson on the front row for the green flag on Saturday.
"It was a great race for us last year," Busch said. "I remember just being pretty quick right off the truck and being able to have a fast car during the test that we had and during the practice session. Qualifying got rained out and then we still got to start up front because of the practice speeds. Feel good about it again this year. Feel like we're right where we left off. We had a pretty good race car right off the truck this time around as well and looking at making some changes that make sense to it to try to give us a little bit more grip overall all the way through the corners here.
Busch's JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota, qualified third with a lap time of 29.810 seconds. He'll share the second row with Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Harvick was fourth in qualifying with a fast lap time of 29.929 seconds.
Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five with a 29.944-second lap in the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Johnson went out 43rd out of the 45 drivers on hand attempting to qualify for the race, with only teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet and Busch left to go after him. While Busch was able to claim the other front row spot on the starting grid, the best Earnhardt could do was seventh, with a lap time of 29.963 seconds. He'll be start Saturday's race next to Clint Bowyer, who turned in a 29.962-second lap with his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, good enough for the sixth starting spot.
Ford was shut out of the top-10. The fastest Ford during qualifying was the No. 16 Roush Fenway entry of Greg Biffle. Biffle qualified 11th with a 30.041-second lap.
On the heels of Sprint Cup qualifying, Dodge, amid speculation in regards to its future in the sport, released the following statement from Beth Paretta, Director of Marketing and Operations for SRT Brand and Motorsports, Chrysler Group LLC:
“While we continue to evaluate plans in NASCAR for 2013 and beyond, we have no commitments with any partners at this time. We continue to be pleased with the amount of interest from the media and fans in our motorsports program and will continue to follow our process as established in a timely manner. When decisions are finalized, we will announce them at that time. Currently what is most important is that we have not lost any focus on 2012 and our partnership with Penske Racing. Our commitment to win races and compete for championships with Penske Racing in both the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series this season remains firm. We will not lose focus on that partnership as we make decisions about our future in NASCAR.”
In response to recent reports about its engine company, Tim Cindric, President of Penske Racing, said: "Contrary to recent published speculation, Penske Racing has not sold its engine company. The team’s focus continues to be on successfully completing the 2012 season, competing for championships and victories in the both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series for Dodge and our other sponsor partners.”
One of the two Dodges on hand at Kentucky cracked the top-10 in qualifying. Brad Keselowski qualified the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge eighth with a lap time of 29.966 seconds.
Forty-five drivers made qualifying attempts with hopes of making the 43-car field. Drivers failing to make the race include J.J. Yeley and Mike Skinner.