Johnson is Daytona 500 pole sitter

Associated Press
Michael Waltrip (left) and Jimmie Johnson had the top two times in Daytona 500 qualifying. Johnson won the pole for next week's race with a speed of 187.075 mph.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. --- The first step for Jimmie Johnson and Michael Waltrip on Sunday was to post the two fastest laps in Daytona 500 qualifying.

The second was to pass inspection.

Both drivers know what it's like to have a qualifying speed tossed out at Daytona. Johnson was caught with an illegal rear window in 2006; Waltrip was caught with an illegal gasoline additive last year. But on Sunday, Johnson and Waltrip locked up the front row -- legally -- for next Sunday's Daytona 500.

Johnson, the two-time defending series champion, won the pole at 187.075 mph. Waltrip was second at 186.734.

Under Daytona's quirky qualifying process, they are the only drivers who know where they'll start. The rest of the lineup will be determined during a pair of 150-mile qualifying races Thursday.

"I'm proud of my team for not losing anything over the off-season," Johnson said. "We're further along now than we were at the end of last year."

The top 35 drivers from last year's standings automatically transfer into the race. So will Kurt Busch, Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott as past champions.

The top two drivers from each of two 150-mile qualifying races also move into the field, as do the three fastest in time trials who don't have a provisional exemption. For now, they are Waltrip, Joe Nemechek and David Reutimann. Nemechek and Reutimann qualified third and fourth, respectively.

Johnson's team brought two cars to a test session at Daytona in January, but neither is scheduled to race next Sunday. They built a special car for the 500, and it didn't hit the track for the first time until Saturday's practice session.

"The car has only 12 timed laps on it," crew chief Chad Knaus said. "We hoped all the data back home was right."

Waltrip's Toyota team worked feverishly over the past three months to get up to speed with other manufacturers. The gains added up to the second position.

"We noticed we were faster every time than we were in the past," Waltrip said. "We've figured out how to take the power Toyota was giving us and put it on the track."

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.

DAYTONA 500

WHAT: 50th running of The Great American Race

WHERE: Daytona International Speedway; Daytona, Fla.

WHEN: 3:40 p.m. Sunday

POLE SITTER: Jimmie Johnson

OUTSIDE POLE: Michael Waltrip

DEFENDING CHAMPION: Kevin Harvick

TV: Fox-Ch. 54

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