- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. | Jimmie Johnson will never have a better view at Watkins Glen International. He just hopes he can keep it.

Johnson captured the first road-course pole of his career in qualifying Friday, turning a lap at 123.633 mph in 71.34 seconds over the 11-turn, 2.45-mile circuit to edge Kurt Busch for the top spot in Sunday’s race.

“It’s going to be nice to have a good view from the front,” said the three-time defending Cup champion, who has never won a Cup road race. “It’s going to boil down to track position and the pit stops, so hopefully we can stay up there.”

Busch, who won the pole here three years ago, finished just 0.01 second behind Johnson. Denny Hamlin, fresh from an emotional victory at Pocono on Monday, qualified third. Marcos Ambrose was fourth, followed by David Stremme. Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Boris Said and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top 10.

Points leader Tony Stewart qualified 13th; four-time Glen winner Jeff Gordon will go off 31st, one spot ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. It’s the worst qualifying effort of Gordon’s career at the Glen.

Because of four rainouts in qualifying in the past five years, this was the first time the Car of Tomorrow was used in qualifying at Watkins Glen. Johnson secured the top spot in spite of a few mistakes.

“I blistered the right front in practice. It was ready to pop, and I locked the brakes in the [tight four-turn] Bus Stop,” said Johnson, who started from the pole at the Glen in 2004 when qualifying was rained out. He finished 40th after blowing the engine in the No. 48 Chevy on lap 23. “I let off and bounced off the curbs and I knew I could charge hard back. It worked out.”

In the past five Cup races at Watkins Glen, there have been 34 cautions, several in the closing laps. And with NASCAR’s double-file restart in effect here for the first time, a rough race seemed to be looming.

“There’s going to be a lot of pushing and shoving,” Johnson said. “It’s hard racing. It’s what the fans have been asking for.”

Monday’s rain-delayed race at Pocono featured an unusual amount of contact for a 2 1/2-mile layout, where cars can comfortably run four wide down the long straightaways of the three-curve track. Kurt Busch said he expects that bump-and-grind trend to continue at the Glen and hopes he fares better than he did at Pocono, where he built a five-second lead and watched it get erased by a late caution. He finished ninth.

“As we’re getting more comfortable, it seems as if there’s more risks taken on double-file restarts towards the end of these races,” Busch said. “It’s become a bit disturbing watching these restarts. It just seems like it’s every man for himself. You’re digging for a top-10, [so] you’re going to lay a door into somebody because eight tires turn better than four.”

The strategy for Johnson and the rest of those starting at the front will be to stay there and watch the mayhem unfold in the rearview mirror.

“You want to separate yourself from guys, and you hope that you’ve got enough fuel to make it to the end on your last pit stop,” Kurt Busch said. “And when you do pit for the last time, you hope that you’re out in that top-five group and don’t have to mess too much with the riffraff.”

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