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Jimmie Johnson nabs first pole of season at New Hampshire

By
The Sports Xchange
Racer Jimmie Johnson. Photo by Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell/UPI
Racer Jimmie Johnson. Photo by Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell/UPI | License Photo

LOUDON, N.H. -- After one of the roughest stretches in his career, Jimmie Johnson got a welcome boost on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Saving his fastest lap for the third and final round of knockout qualifying, Johnson won the pole for Sunday's New Hampshire 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (1:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), covering 1.058 miles at 133.971 mph.

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Johnson edged Kyle Busch (133.830 mph) for the top starting spot, claiming his first pole at the Magic Mile, his first of the 2016 season and the 35th of his career.

Busch, however, owned the fastest lap of the day, running 134.080 mph to pace the second round, but Johnson was quickest when it counted most.

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With only one top 10 in his last nine races, Johnson needed a catalyst, but his car was so off-kilter during a mock qualifying run during opening practice that he thought something had broken on the No. 48 Chevrolet.

While his team reset the car to the specifications in place when it unloaded, Johnson went on a 32-mile bike ride with fellow driver Matt Kenseth to clear his head.

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When he returned for time trials, the car was better.

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"We had a really weird set of tires or something odd go on on our mock run at the end of practice," Johnson said. "It felt like something was broken on the car. So to come back and have good speed in the car and advance, I knew after round two we would have a shot at the pole, because we were able to keep our lap count down and advance to the next round on our first lap in each session.

"And then put together a smooth lap. I felt like it could have been faster, but certainly a good smooth one, and it was enough."

And having speed in the car was a shot of adrenaline to a team that has been struggling.

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"We've had a lot of tough races," Johnson acknowledged. "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. ... Today's a big day for us."

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Martin Truex Jr. will start third after bumping his way into the final 12 by .001 of a second over fellow Toyota driver Carl Edwards in the closing seconds of the 10-minute second round. Truex covered the distance at 132.827 mph to knock Edwards out of the final round.

Truex then secured the third position on the grid with a lap of 133.371 mph.

"It's been a hectic day," Truex said. "It seems like we've been thrashing all day long. Everything is last minute, last second and just throwing stuff at it, but when it counts we keep hitting it.

"We were first in practice and third here. We barely made it through the second round and then went on to finish third. All in all, it was a good day. Just a lot of quick decisions by everyone."

Kurt Busch will start fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, who led the first round of time trials at 133.166 mph.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger claimed the seventh through 10th starting spots, respectively.

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Substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, Alex Bowman took the 20th starting position. Though Earnhardt wasn't at New Hampshire, he nevertheless contributed to Johnson's pole-winning run.

"He did come here and test for us," said Johnson, who is driving a new chassis this week. "And he gave us the foundation for the way our cars unloaded today. So big thanks to the 88 team, Dale and (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and those guys for having a great test session and giving us an opportunity for the pole today."

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying -- New Hampshire 301

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Loudon, New Hampshire

Friday, July 15, 2016

1. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 133.971 mph.

2. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 133.830 mph.

3. (78) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 133.371 mph.

4. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 133.059 mph.

5. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 133.059 mph.

6. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 132.915 mph.

7. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 132.720 mph.

8. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 132.697 mph.

9. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 132.692 mph.

10. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 132.618 mph.

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11. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 132.126 mph.

12. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 131.989 mph.

13. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 132.822 mph.

14. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 132.799 mph.

15. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 132.780 mph.

16. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 132.683 mph.

17. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 132.471 mph.

18. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 132.278 mph.

19. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 132.241 mph.

20. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 132.057 mph.

21. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 131.724 mph.

22. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 131.678 mph.

23. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 131.665 mph.

24. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 131.180 mph.

25. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 131.501 mph.

26. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 131.401 mph.

27. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 130.954 mph.

28. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 130.711 mph.

29. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 130.568 mph.

30. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 130.568 mph.

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31. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 130.559 mph.

32. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 130.367 mph.

33. (44) Brian Scott, Ford, 130.224 mph.

34. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 129.812 mph.

35. (34) Chris Buescher, Ford, 128.680 mph.

36. (55) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 128.070 mph.

37. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 126.774 mph.

38. (32) Eddie MacDonald, Ford, 126.690 mph.

39. (30) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 126.534 mph.

40. (98) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 124.871 mph.

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