LONG POND, Pa. — Jimmie Johnson needed multiple attempts to make it through pre-qualifying inspection, then set a track record with a lap of 180.654 mph to win the pole Friday at Pocono Raceway.
Kyle Busch? He could only think the five-time Sprint Cup champion and crew were up to no good.
Johnson went 29th instead of his scheduled 24th spot, and the later start under the clouds as the track got faster might have given him an advantage over the cars that went out under the sun. Johnson had inspection issues in July at New Hampshire and used another late start to qualify third until his time was scrapped after the No. 48 failed inspection.
Are Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus just working around the rules? Or can they simply not get the car in tune in time for inspection?
“A lot of these other teams figure out how to play by the rules,” Busch said. “It seems like there’s one that’s sometimes late. Quite often, more than the rest.”
Busch will start second and Carl Edwards third.
Johnson is in position to go for the season sweep at Pocono, where he won from the pole in June.
He took the top spot this time after a second pass through inspection. NASCAR determined the tow on his Chevrolet was off by one-thousandth of an inch – just enough to make Busch suspicious.
“There’s been some times this year where those guys go through four, five, six times and they’re always late,” Busch said. “Every time they’re late, they’re always fast. Maybe we need to be late.”
Johnson brushed off Busch’s comments.
“It’s only (a few) spots, now. It didn’t make a difference,” he said. “I wish there was some master plan behind it all. They’re welcome to try it.”
Joey Logano’s old mark of 179.598 mph was topped by six drivers, including Logano.
“I wish we went later,” Busch said. “I think we would have had a better racetrack that was 10 degrees cooler, at least.”
ARCA SERIES: Corey Lajoie won the race at Pocono Raceway for his second victory in three career starts.
Frank Kimmel, the series points leader who is tied with Iggy Katona for the ARCA career victory record with 79, was second. Justin Boston was third.
LaJoie came from the rear of the 36-car field Friday to win in his first race at Pocono.
The caution-free, 50-lap race saw the average speed top 162 mph.
LaJoie is the son of Randy LaJoie, a two-time champion on NASCAR’s second-tier circuit.