NASCAR & Auto Racing

Johnson claims Dover pole

DOVER, Del. – Jimmie Johnson apparently likes the view from the front a lot better.

Johnson, who had to rally from a bad start in the Chase for the Nextel Cup to win his first series championship last season, got off to a strong start to defending his title last weekend and shows no signs of slowing down.

After pacing the field during practice Friday afternoon, Johnson sealed the deal and won the pole for Sunday’s Dodge Dealers 400 at Dover International Speedway – his second pole in the past three races. Johnson’s lap at 154.765 mph easily displaced rookie Juan Pablo Montoya from the top spot.

A 39th-place finish in the first race of the Chase left Johnson having to play catch-up last season. His sixth-place finish last week left him tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for the points lead entering this weekend.

“We had a decent performance. We felt like we were probably a top-three or four car and ended up sixth, so we left (New Hampshire) wishing for a little bit more,” Johnson said.

“Certainly (we) recognize that we’re in a much better spot than where we were last year at this time and feel that we’re doing the right things and still a very strong threat for this championship.”

Johnson’s team elected to spend a good deal of practice Friday working on qualifying setups, not just for good track position but also for the added bonus of starting up front and selecting a good pit stall.

“It’s tough to say how important track position will be. The start of the race will be a little easier for us. You take a lot of risks on pit road here, getting on and off pit road,” Johnson said.

“I got hit here trying to leave my stall in the spring race and did some damage. We spent most of the race trying to fix the damage on the car and trying to get that right. Hopefully, with the first pit stall, we’ll be able to avoid much of that stuff.”

In all, six of the 12 drivers in the Chase will start in the top 10 on Sunday. Denny Hamlin qualified third, Kurt Busch fourth, Martin Truex Jr. fifth, Kevin Harvick seventh and Matt Kenseth 10th.

The remaining drivers in the Chase: Carl Edwards will start 14th, Kyle Busch 22nd, Gordon, 27th, Tony Stewart 28th, Jeff Burton 36th and last week’s race winner, Clint Bowyer, will line up 42nd.

In fact, because Dover only has 42 pit stalls, Bowyer – currently ranked fourth in the Chase – will have to share the final pit stall with driver Michael Waltrip, who starts 43rd.

Montoya tied his best start of the year. He also started second at Indianapolis and at the August race at Bristol, Tenn. In the spring race at Dover, Montoya started 16th and finished 31st.

“We made quite a few changes, but the good thing is, like last week, we really struggled but every change we did actually worked,” Montoya said. “When you can nail change after change after change, all of a sudden you’re really competitive.”

Six drivers did not make the field: Ward Burton, Scott Wimmer, Sam Hornish Jr., Kevin Lepage, Dave Blaney and Jeremy Mayfield.

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