Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson needed a reason to smile at a racetrack and Friday afternoon he got that. The Hendrick Motorsports driver put down a lap of 28.430 seconds, 133.971 miles per hour to secure the pole for Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Johnson put down his fast lap as the clock neared the three-minute mark of the final five minute round to secure his 35th career pole his first at the 1-mile track in Loudon New Hampshire and his first pole of 2016. His pole run came hours after the lone 90 minute practice session led by Martin Truex Jr. After that practice session Johnson felt his car was terrible. He then got ready for qualifying with a 32-mile bike ride with Matt Kenseth while his crew worked on the car.
“I came back with a clean sheet of paper and tried to walk to the race car as if it was my first time in the car and didn’t have any baggage that I carried with me,” Johnson said. “I think experience has helped me get to that spot. Younger years I certainly worried about things and over sensitive and over thinking a lot of what goes on. I think experience helps in these situations. Fortunately, the car was so different that one run that something was just flat out wrong. It wasn’t even the race car that I drove 10 laps prior to. Something was off.”
After winning two of the first five races of the year, in the last five Johnson has struggled. He has crashed out in three of the last five races finishing outside the top 30, and finished outside the top 10 in the other two.
“We have had a lot of tough races,” Johnson said. “Qualifying has been so/so. I’m not the best at qualifying. I think the majority of that emotion was the fact that we actually got a pole. We don’t have many. It’s not our strong suit. Just a good day all-in-all and certainly something this Lowe’s team needed after the tough couple of months.”
Kyle Busch, who led the second round, will start on the front row in second, Martin Truex Jt., who made into the final round after getting bumped out and making a second run in the final minute of the second round will start third followed by Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin.
“Our car wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped it would be as far as the feeling that I had with grip,” Busch said. “It was fast though, the second round and third round were certainly high up there on the speed charts, but just didn’t quite have the comfort that I was looking for out of the car to be able to push it a little bit more and get some more time out of it, actually had to give up a little time because of the lack of grip that I felt off the exit of four and ended up p2 today.”
Joey Logano led the first round and will start sixth, Chase Elliott seventh followed by Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger rounds out the top ten. Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart were the final two to advance to the final round and will start 11th and 12th respectively.
Alex Bowman, driving in relief of Dale Earnhardt Jr. who is out with concussion-like symptoms, staged a respectable qualifying session advancing to the second round and securing a 20th place spot for Sunday. The full lineup can be found here.
With 40 entries, no one was sent home. The New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be Sunday just after 1:00 p.m. ET with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.