Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson. Photo by Richard McLean

JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Lowes/Kobalt Chevrolet set a new NASCAR Sprit Cup qualifying track record Friday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway. His Coors Light Pole Award winning lap was 25.858 seconds/139,222mph, breaking the record of 25.943/138.766 mph set by KYLE BUSH at last year’s fall Cup race. This is Johnson’s thirty-second pole in 434 Cup starts, which (according to my suspect math) is a pole position every thirteen and half races. For this year, he’s had three poles and it’s his second pole out of 21 races on the one-mile desert oval.

Jimmie Johnson's car
Jimmie Johnson’s car

“New track records are awesome. I don’t qualify on pole all that often so I take great pride in them; especially track records. It’s a very cool of a deal. It’s clearly at a great time in the season with the Chase and all that. We have a great pit pick and track position to start the race with. Now we just need to be able to maintain that and make the right decisions during the race to keep track position.”

Johnson said the key factors in the race will be tire strategy and fuel mileage at the end.

Johnson was so relaxed in the post conference, he almost appeared to be sleeping.

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson

Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin. Photo by Richard McLean

Runner-up and provisional pole sitter for quite a while was DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 FedEx Toyota. He will be doing what he can to help his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, MATT KENSETH/No.20 Dollar General Toyota, who is seven points adrift of Johnson in the Chase. “I know how hard Matt works at studying notes and video and things like that. We’ll just try to communicate as a team because I think that’s what it’s going to take to beat Jimmie — you’re going to have to have a great solid team and we’re going to do everything we can to contribute. He’s just — Matt needs a few things to fall his way. I’m rooting for them. I’m going to do everything I can to make his (Johnson’s) life tough while I’m up there.

Joey Logano
Joey Logano

JOEY LOGANO/No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford was third. “Yeah, I thought the lap was OK. I didn’t think it was spectacular, but it’s gonna be a decent starting spot.”

Regarding the new left side tire, Logano said “It kind of feels like the car is coming in sooner. What we had here before it took a few laps for the tire to come in. It seems like the tire is coming in a little bit quicker for sticker tires, so I think that’s a good thing for racing. I feel like we can be a little more aggressive on the restarts and stuff like that, so we’ll see what happens.”

The top four drivers, Kyle Busch, bested last year’s qualifying track record.

RICKY STENHOUSE Jr/No.17 RFR Driven Ford was the top Rookie, qualifying twenty-seventh.

Everyone knows that Johnson has a close, long-term relationship with his Crew Chief, CHAD KNAUS, who is noted for being intense, focused and committed. Johnson said it has rubbed off on him. “It definitely has. He has shaped me and molded me into the teammate, the team leader, the driver that I am. There are times when I do not want to hear what he has to say to me. Sometimes it ends up being right. In Homestead at our test there were a couple of examples of that which took place.

“The good thing with Chad is his intensity is there all that is an obvious, but he doesn’t have a filter. He is not fearful of getting something off his chest. At times it can rub anyone in here the wrong way, it can rub the competitors the wrong way and it can rub me the wrong way, but at least it’s out there. It’s nice working with a guy that isn’t afraid to get it off his chest; but he only does it because he cares and that he is that focused on it all. His intensity has shaped me into who I am today and very grateful to have that environment. I think I thrive in that environment. There are some drivers that want to crew chief from the seat. That is not our dynamic. He has created an environment for me to thrive in and to learn. So it’s worked out really well.” Johnson joked that “I guess I’m good at being told what to do.”

Qualifying started at 3:40pm MT/5:40pm ET, which meant the drivers were driving straight into the sun in the west. That’s quite a glare coming past the starter stand.

Hamlin said “Probably the biggest thing was just figuring out where I was on the race track. The sunlight is just blinding in Turn One and usually that’s how I gauge. I usually don’t go off marks. There were a visual marks in the corner and I looked and I saw some scrape marks on the track from where guys would hit the splitter where they would start braking and I said, ‘I guess this is where I’m supposed to brake and the turn should be around here somewhere.’ It’s difficult, Turn One is very difficult and I think that’s where I probably gained the most figuring out where I was on the lap.”

Sunday’s 312-lap race starts at 1pm MT/3pm ET, and will be televised live on ESPN.