AVONDALE, ARIZ. (AP) - Jimmie Johnson, his eyes squarely on a sixth NASCAR championship, set the tone for what could be yet another dominating weekend in the desert by winning the pole at Phoenix International Raceway.
He did it with a track record.
The five-time NASCAR champion turned a lap of 139.222 mph in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on Friday to break the mark of 138.766 set by Kyle Busch last November.
“Track records are awesome,” Johnson said after Friday’s 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.”
He knows he has a lot of work ahead of him this weekend in making his car better, and then trying to catch Johnson on Sunday.
“This track in the spring was extremely hard to pass at, probably one of the toughest tracks that we go to and I don’t know if it will be any better or not this time,” Kenseth said. “Pit strategy was all basically the same the last time we were here. So, unless you have cautions fall funny, I don’t know if you’ll be able to do it on pit strategy. I think you’re going to have to have a good balance, good speed, you have to be able to pass, have to have good pit stops, all these things.
“I don’t feel it’s a track where you’re going to get a whole bunch of free ones from a strategy call. I think you’re going to have to be good all day.”
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.
Both Hamlin and Logano marveled at Johnson’s performance.
“He’s been in kill mode for a while,” Logano said. “When they are running for that championship, they find that extra notch that a lot of other teams can’t find.”
“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.”