Johnson grabs fifth career pole at Pocono

LONG POND, PA - Jimmie Johnson went out late in Friday's qualifying session, and clicked off a fast lap of 170.645 mph to gain the top spot. This is Johnson's first pole of the season and his first at Pocono. The No. 48 Hendrick Chevy has made two...

LONG POND, PA - Jimmie Johnson went out late in Friday's qualifying session, and clicked off a fast lap of 170.645 mph to gain the top spot. This is Johnson's first pole of the season and his first at Pocono. The No. 48 Hendrick Chevy has made two starts at the 2.5-mile track, finishing third and 15th last year.

"I have to admit," said Johnson. "After watching what Bobby (Labonte) ran and knowing Ryan (Newman) was coming, I was first of all surprised that we were in contention for the pole. We had a problem in practice. On old tires, we went out and were sitting there third or fourth on the board (in practice). We put sticker tires on to make a run and we had a problem with the engine.

"We actually lost some time and everybody else picked up about half a second. We were scratching our heads as to what happened. We started digging around and found a valve spring failed. We changed it and you don't know how much weight to put in that, what difference that would really make.

"You can easily get bummed out and get down when you have something like that happen going into qualifying with the wrong mind set, but I have to thank my guys for not letting that happen. They kept pushing me up and made me climb in that car with the confidence that we had a shot at the pole and we got it."

Ryan Newman will start on the outside pole. This is Newman's twelfth straight top-ten start.

"We always try as hard as we can to do the best we can," Newman commented. "I'm happy to be on the front row because track position is very important here. The ALLTEL Dodge was pretty good off the truck. We worked on it a little bit and it got better.

"We're looking forward to it on Sunday and getting 500 miles in."

Bobby Labonte continues his hot streak by landing the third starting spot. Labonte, who has scored five consecutive top-five finishes, turned a lap of 170.309 mph.

Labonte is a safe pick to contend for the win on Sunday. In six of the last nine events at Pocono, Labonte has three wins and six top-ten finish.

"We changed a lot of stuff in practice," stated Labonte. "We weren't that good, and I told then that I didn't know what else to do. We changed some stuff, thought about it and talked to Greg Zipadelli (Stewart's crew chief) and his crew, I have to thank them for that.

"We unloaded off the truck and weren't that good; we changed some stuff and got better. We changed more stuff after practice. We knew we were going to be good."

Rolling off fourth will be Labonte's teammate Tony Stewart, with a lap of 170.203 mph. Stewart, who was quickest in morning practice, is looking to rebound from an uneven year of results. Despite six top-ten finishes, he has four DNFs and seven finishes of 20th or worse.

If luck stays on the No. 20 Chevy's side, Stewart will be unstoppable. In eight starts at Pocono, he has amassed two top-fives and six top-tens. In addition to sitting on the pole in July of 2000, Stewart has never finished worse than 13th at the 2.5-mile triangle.

"It was a good lap," Stewart said. "It was a little bit loose on the last run of the practice and we tightened it up a little bit, but we didn't get it quite tight enough to get the pole. My teammate had a great lap and we're going to have a good starting spot regardless, so I think the car is really going to race well here."

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who turned the second quickest lap in morning practice, qualified fifth. Earnhardt, who was second fastest in morning practice, has only one top-ten finish in six starts at the 2.5-mile track nestled in the bucolic Pocono Mountains.

Earnhardt commented, "That was really good. We're really getting better every time we come back to Pocono. It's a whole lot better, a big step up for us from how we've run here in the past, and we've done pretty well. I'm looking forward to Sunday."

Jack Sprague is the highest starting rookie in 18th.

"I know what it takes to go fast here," Sprague stated. "I mean, I was a little tight in practice and I was a little too tight there. The bad thing is I used three provisionals right off the bat at the beginning of the year and I don't need to be going home and I'm flirting with disaster as it is."

Forty-five cars attempted to make the 43-car field. Failing to make the show were Morgan Shepard and Larry Foyt.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Larry Foyt , Jimmie Johnson , Jack Sprague