AVONDALE, Ariz. — Jimmie Johnson won the pole Friday for the penultimate race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, moving him a step closer to his sixth NASCAR title.
The five-time NASCAR champion set a track record with a lap of 139.222 mph in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to earn the top starting spot for Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. The lap broke the mark of 138.766 set by Kyle Busch last November.
“Track records are awesome,” Johnson said after the qualifying session. “I don’t qualify on pole all that often, so I take great pride in them, especially track records. Very cool to do, and clearly a great time in the season and a great time in the Chase.”
Matt Kenseth will start 14th in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Kenseth trails Johnson by seven points with two races remaining in the Chase.
Denny Hamlin qualified second with a lap at 139.023 for JGR, but he went out much later in Friday’s session than teammate Kenseth.
Joey Logano qualified third in a Penske Racing Ford, and Kyle Busch was fourth as both of Kenseth’s teammates out-qualified the title contender.
Hamlin and Logano marveled at Johnson’s performance.
“He’s been in kill mode for a while,” said Logano. “When they are running for that championship, they find that extra notch that a lot of other teams can’t find.”
Johnson is coming off a dominating performance last week at Texas, where he led 255 of the 334 laps to win his sixth race of the season and break a tie with Kenseth in the standings.
“Last week, I ran second to him for a while and just to see the speed in his car – and then he unloads today and you watch in practice how fast his car was,” Logano said. “He’s got that next notch and he’s going really fast right now.”