CONCORD, N.C. — The top spot on the grid is a comfortable place for Jimmie Johnson, who won the pole position for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 with a speed of 194.911 mph in the final round of knockout qualifying Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Johnson is the last driver to win NASCAR’s longest race from the pole, a feat he accomplished in 2004. In fact, Johnson is the only driver to win from the pole at Charlotte in this century, having also taken the checkered flag from the top starting position in the fall race of 2009.
When Johnson wins a Coors Light pole award, history indicates he’ll probably be fast in race trim as well. So chances are, the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will be a serious threat to end an uncharacteristically long 13-race winless streak dating to last season.
“It was a really strong lap,” Johnson acknowledged. “I’m very pleased with it. Happy to get this Lowe’s Chevrolet on the pole for this big race coming up Sunday afternoon. We knew we had a great race car today, so it was nice to get out there and work our way through the three segments here and get it done.
“On the first run we missed it a little bit, but (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) knew exactly how to dial me in for the second one. We got a lot closer and, for the third segment, laid down a good lap.”
Thursday’s pole was Johnson’s first of the season, his fifth at Charlotte and the 33rd of his career. Brad Keselowski qualified second at 194.567 mph, followed by Kasey Kahne (193.618 mph) and Danica Patrick (193.334 mph).
For Keselowski, the front row start is his seventh in 12 races this year, with six of those coming from the second position on the grid. Keselowski’s only pole came at Phoenix, in the second race of the season.
Patrick paced the second round, a 10-minute session, at 194.595 mph, the fastest qualifying lap ever run by a female driver at a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.
“We have a lot to be proud of,” Patrick said. “I mean, let’s face it, this is the part of the weekend that I dreaded every time. I had to train myself to not say ‘I hate qualifying.’
“We were (sixth) in a round (the 25-minute first round), we were first in a round, and we were fourth in a round. A lot to be proud of at Stewart-Haas and for the GoDaddy car, and it’s going to give us a great starting spot for Sunday.”
Kevin Harvick had perhaps the fastest car but didn’t have the chance to prove it in the final five-minute round. When the clock ran out in the session, Harvick was approaching the start/finish line, but because he failed to start his lap before time expired, he didn’t post a lap that counted in the session.
Accordingly, Harvick, one of the favorites to win the 600, will start 11th. Matt Kenseth, who likewise failed to take the green in Round 3, starts 12th.