Johnson takes step in quieting doubters with pole


CONCORD, N.C. | Jimmie Johnson got a little closer to winning a race — and quieting those who seem who are overly concerned by it — by winning the pole Thursday night for the Coca-Cola 600.

His fast lap in the third round of knockout qualifying was 194.911 mph, and it means his No. 48 Chevrolet will have the best starting spot Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We don’t care what anybody has to say about this race team,” he said. “We know what this race team is capable of. We executed.

“I definitely think that there are some people who get satisfaction out of [not winning]. Some people aren’t satisfied when I do win. I can’t do it right either way.”

The 1.5-mile track that’s less than two miles from his Hendrick Motorsports shops, used to be Johnson’s best track. He has six wins here, including a streak of four in a row, but he’s been shut out since the fall race in 2009.

Two of his six wins at Charlotte started from the pole.

“Qualifying days usually aren’t our best,” Johnson said. “When we qualify well, we usually race well.”

Johnson now has 33 career poles — 13 that he parlayed into wins.

Brad Keselowski qualified second at 194.567 mph. It was the seventh time this year he locked down a front-row starting spot.

Keselowski got the 24th and final transfer spot in the first knockout session, but his No. 2 Ford came alive in the final two rounds.

“I like this knockout qualifying,” Keselowski said. “The great thing about these [three] sessions is there’s multiple opportunities to get it right.”

Kasey Kahne wound up third, followed by Danica Patrick in fourth, Clint Bowyer in fifth, Denny Hamlin in sixth, Kyle Busch in seventh, Joey Logano in eighth, Marcos Ambrose in ninth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 10th.

While the pole position was a good start, Johnson knows it’s a long way from winning.

“It shows we’re going to be strong, but it doesn’t send a scare message like three or four wins would do,” Johnson said.

Lesson learned

Kurt Busch said his crash at Indianapolis last Monday was an important part of the learning process in preparation of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

“I’m glad I experienced it,” he said. “I might sound stupid by saying that I’m glad I wrecked at 220 mph. But if I didn’t put myself in that position, I would have done that on Sunday, possibly 50 laps into the race. That’s how you have to advance through life is to learn from your mistakes.”

Busch will join Tony Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon as the only drivers to appear in the Indianapolis 500 early Sunday, and then the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway later that afternoon.

Busch’s car was destroyed in the Turn 2 crash. But unlike NASCAR, he will be allowed to stay 13th on the starting grid in a backup car.

“It was a mistake that I wholeheartedly put myself in,” Busch said. “It’s because I just started to feel comfortable. I just let my guard down a little bit, and that IndyCar jumped up and bit me.”


There was an interesting twist to last week’s All-Star race at Charlotte. The three drivers who transferred from the Sprint Showdown qualifying races — the top-two finishers and the winner of the fan vote — all had strong ties to television. Clint Bowyer won the race and his car is owned by Fox Sports 1 commentator Michael Waltrip; A.J. Allmendinger finished second and his car is co-owned by ESPN commentator Brad Daugherty; Josh Wise won the fan vote and his car is owned by Fox Sports 1 commentator Phil Parsons. … The Charlotte Motor Speedway will be closed Friday. The History 300 for the Nationwide Series is Saturday, as well as the final two practice sessions for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.