FORT WORTH, Texas – Jimmie Johnson was the 20th driver to qualify Friday for the AAA Texas 500, and as soon as his lap was done he remained in the driver’s seat of his No. 48 Chevrolet until the other 27 drivers completed their laps.
One by one, they tried to knock Johnson off the pole for Sunday’s race. One by one, they failed.
The Sprint Cup Series points leader didn’t even look through his side window as Brad Keselowski, his closest challenger in the Chase for the Championship, ran his lap late in the session. He kept his focus, and superstition, locked in a forward stare without blinking.
“Knock on wood, I’m not superstitious,” Johnson playfully said. “More times than not, when a guy sets the fast time, he gets knocked off as soon as he gets out. So I tried it at Martinsville (last week) staying in the car, and it worked.
“I was ready to get out, but my engine tuner said we’ll be sitting here a long time. I thought, ‘That’s right. We did that last week.’ At this point of the season, you have to pull out all the stops.”
Johnson picked up 5.209 mph from practice to qualifying. His pole-winning speed was 191.076 mph.
Greg Biffle will start second.
“I drove the most exciting lap in a long, long time,” he said. “That was a white-knuckle lap. I didn’t leave anything on the table.”
Johnson turned the pole at Martinsville, Va., into a victory.
Keselowski, who is just two points behind in the standings entering Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ESPN), was third-fastest in practice, but he was eighth in qualifying at 189.534 mph.
While the championship seems to be a two-man race, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne still are within striking distance. Bowyer, who is 26 points behind, qualified fourth, while Kahne, who trails by 29, was 13th.