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Johnson Puts More Pressure On Title Chasers

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 14 2015
Jimmie Johnson won the pole at Phoenix on Friday and could extend teammate Jeff Gordon a bit of help with a win on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Jimmie Johnson won the pole at Phoenix on Friday and could extend teammate Jeff Gordon a bit of help with a win on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Jimmie Johnson won’t win a seventh Sprint Cup Series championship this year, but he’s sure making things interesting for the remaining handful of drivers still in contention for the 2015 crown.

chase 15 logoJohnson, who was eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship in the first round of the series’ cut-down playoffs, captured the pole on Friday for Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway – a race that will determine the make-up of the title-deciding race in Homestead, Fla. next weekend.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver won the pole with a track-record lap at 143.158 mph (25.147 seconds). He won it a week after winning the 500-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway a week ago.

That victory in Fort Worth, and, potentially, another on Sunday, could spoil the plans of some of the seven other drivers competing for berths in the four-drive finale at Homestead – Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s teammate has already secured on of those finals spots.

“I don’t think I want to play spoiler — I just want to go fast,” Johnson after qualifying. “I just want to sit on the pole, win races, lead laps. I want to be the 48 that we know we’re capable of. My motivation comes through that.

“I want to be the race team that we are and the driver that I am. It’s not because I want to be the spoiler, and I’m not in the Chase, so let me get in the way. It has nothing to do with that.”

The pole was the first for Johnson since May of 2014 at Charlotte. The pole, his third at Phoenix, the last coming in November 2013 during his run for a sixth series title.

A victory on Sunday would be No. 76 in Johnson’s career. That would tie him with Dale Earnhardt Sr.

“I was watching a clip before we came here and somebody remembered and posted that Jeff (Gordon) was able to match Earnhardt, Sr’s  76th and that we would have that opportunity this weekend,” Johnson said. “And man, if that happens, it was one of those meant-to-be things to honor Dale and then also honor Jeff in his final year if it was to happen. It’s a long shot and the stars all have to align. This hasn’t been our best track and it’s going to be a very scrappy race with all the drivers that need to win to advance. If it happens, then somebody was looking down on us from above.”

Kurt Busch (142.880 mph) – one of those still in contention for the final four – was second fastest in qualifying.

A win for Busch Sunday would send him to Florida with a shot at a second Cup championship.

“The way that this weekend is shaping up for us, it’s a great start,” Busch said. “We know we need to win. The car, the crew and everybody we are all clicking on eight cylinders.

“We just didn’t quite get the pole. Johnson put down an awesome lap, so congrats to him. We’re outside pole, and we’ll go from there.”

Kevin Harvick, who has won the last four races at Phoenix, qualified eighth. Other Chase drivers will start as follows: Carl Edwards, fourth; Martin Truex Jr., fifth; Kyle Busch, 10th; and Jeff Gordon, 12th. Gordon is the only one of the eight eligible drivers who has already clinched a spot in the Championship Round – thanks to his Nov. 1 victory at Martinsville.

“We didn’t qualify as well as we did last time, but the car was really good in race trim as we practiced today,” Harvick said. “We just never really found anything that worked for us in qualifying trim.”

 

Team Penske contenders Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski both need a victory Sunday to advance. But both stumbled in qualifying, with Logano earning the 14th starting spot and Keselowski the 18th.

“We just missed it a little bit,” Logano said after the second round. “I wish we were in the next round and going for a pole, but the fact of the matter is we’re going to start 14th, and we’re going to work on our car (during Saturday’s practice) and get it ready to win a raceon Sunday.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Quicken Loans Qualifying for Heroes 500

Phoenix International Raceway

Avondale, Arizona

Friday, November 13, 2015

  1. (48)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 143.158 mph.
  2. (41)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 142.880 mph.
  3. (88)  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 142.580 mph.
  4. (19)  Carl Edwards, Toyota, 142.501 mph.
  5. (78)  Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 142.292 mph.
  6. (42)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 142.287 mph.
  7. (20)  Erik Jones(i), Toyota, 142.219 mph.
  8. (4)  Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 142.068 mph.
  9. (5)  Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 142.062 mph.
  10. (18)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 141.833 mph.
  11. (24)  Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 141.409 mph.
  12. (1)  Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 141.409 mph.
  13. (11)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 141.665 mph.
  14. (22)  Joey Logano, Ford, 141.649 mph.
  15. (27)  Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 141.393 mph.
  16. (3)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 141.343 mph.
  17. (43)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 141.282 mph.
  18. (2)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 141.271 mph.
  19. (17)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 140.944 mph.
  20. (16)  Greg Biffle, Ford, 140.691 mph.
  21. (10)  Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 140.378 mph.
  22. (31)  Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 140.280 mph.
  23. (47)  AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 140.252 mph.
  24. (13)  Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 139.735 mph.
  25. (51)  Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 139.492 mph.
  26. (6)  Trevor Bayne, Ford, 139.459 mph.
  27. (15)  Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 139.265 mph.
  28. (9)  Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 139.114 mph.
  29. (55)  David Ragan, Toyota, 138.910 mph.
  30. (83)  Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, 138.900 mph.
  31. (14)  Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 138.739 mph.
  32. (40)  Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 138.212 mph.
  33. (26)  JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 138.164 mph.
  34. (38)  David Gilliland, Ford, 137.878 mph.
  35. (7)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 137.868 mph.
  36. (46)  Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 137.799 mph.
  37. (23)  Jeb Burton #, Toyota, Owner Points
  38. (35)  Cole Whitt, Ford, Owner Points
  39. (32)  Joey Gase(i), Ford, Owner Points
  40. (34)  Brett Moffitt #, Ford, Owner Points
  41. (98)  Ryan Preece, Ford, Owner Points
  42. (33)  Ryan Ellis(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
  43. (62)  Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points

 

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 14 2015
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