JOLIET, Ill. — For Jimmie Johnson, it was an excellent first step.
Johnson will start the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup from the pole in Sunday’s GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
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.
Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus chose not to make a qualifying 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. He (Parrott) has made some changes just trying to get an idea of what I like.
“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.”
Scott Riggs, Reed Sorenson, J.J. Yeley and Jason Leffler failed to make the 43-car field.