Jimmie Johnson nabs first Loudon pole
Jimmie Johnson celebrates his pole run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 15, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Jimmie Johnson turned in a 28.430-second/133.971 mph and the final of three rounds of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon to claim the pole starting spot for Sunday’s New Hampshire 301. It’s his first pole of the 2016 race season and the first of his career at NHMS. Johnson’s latest pole also is the 50th for the Chevrolet SS.
“We’re really excited about this, because we’ve had a tough month or two,” Johnson said. “I’m proud of the team and proud to take the 50th pole for the Chevy SS today. That’s very special.”
In round one of qualifying, Johnson didn’t crack the top-10, but he improved from 16th in the first round to fifth in round two to advance to the final round to make an attempt for the pole.
“We unloaded well and put up some great laps, and then, when I went out on our final set of tires the end of practice, I thought something was wrong with the car. It just was not like it had been, and we were left with some tough decisions on what to do. We put the car back to where it was when we unloaded and had a great qualifying session.”
The fastest lap in qualifying, though, actually was turned in by Kyle Busch in round two. Busch’s second-round lap that clocked in at 28.407 seconds/134.080 mph was the only lap of the three-round qualifying session to crack the 134 mph mark.
After posting the fastest lap in qualifying, Busch dropped to second in round three and, as a result, will share the front row with Johnson for the green flag on Sunday.
“Overall, I messed up a couple times on that lap that we had and a little bit off of four and, definitely, checked up and had to get out of the gas just to save the car and come down and have a good lap,” Busch said of the lap he turned in the final round. “Still surprising that we were second.”
Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch were third and fourth in the third round to start Sunday’s race in row two. Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five on the starting grid.
Hamlin shared the third row with Joey Logano, who wound up sixth after turning in the fastest lap (28.602 seconds/133.166 mph) in round one.
Alex Bowman, in a fill-in role behind the wheel of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, advanced to the second round in qualifying and wound up 20th.
“I felt like we probably could have qualified a little better, there,” Bowman said. “I probably didn’t do the best job I possibly could have, and we got a little too tight off, so just part of it. I think we have a really good car. Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has worked really hard on this thing.”
Here’s a look at the complete starting grid for Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
Row 1 — Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet), Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota)
Row 2 — Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Toyota), Kurt Busch (No. 41 Chevrolet)
Row 3 — Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota), Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford)
Row 4 — Chase Elliott (No. 24 Chevrolet), Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Chevrolet)
Row 5 — Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford), A.J. Allmendinger (No. 47 Chevrolet)
Row 6 — Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet), Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet)
Row 7 — Carl Edwards (No. 19 Toyota), Ryan Blaney (No. 21 Ford)
Row 8 — Austin Dillon (No. 3 Chevrolet), Matt DiBenedetto (No. 83 Toyota)
Row 9 — Kyle Larson (No. 42 Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Toyota)
Row 10 — Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet), Alex Bowman (No. 88 Chevrolet)
Row 11 — Casey Mears (No. 13 Chevrolet), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Ford)
Row 12 — David Ragan (No. 23 Chevrolet), Paul Menard (No. 27 Chevrolet)
Row 13 — Ryan Newman (No. 31 Chevrolet), Aric Almirola (No. 43 Ford)
Row 14 — Michael McDowell (No. 95 Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
Row 15 — Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet), Landon Cassill (No. 38 Ford)
Row 16 — Trevor Bayne (No. 6 Ford), Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Chevrolet)
Row 17 — Brian Scott (No. 44 Ford), Regan Smith (No. 7 Chevrolet)
Row 18 — Chris Buescher (No. 34 Ford), Reed Sorenson (No. 55 Chevrolet)
Row 19 — Michael Annett (No. 46 Chevrolet), Eddie MacDonald (No. 32 Ford)
Row 20 — Josh Wise (No. 30 Chevrolet), Ryan Ellis (No. 98 Chevrolet)