Johnson speeds to Daytona 500 pole

By Joe Jennings -
February 10, 2008

During qualifications for the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500, Jimmie Johnson displayed the strength of his Lowe's Chevrolet by speeding to the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to be held on February 17. The reigning champion clocked off a time of 48.109 (187.075 mph).

"I am really excited about it," Johnson said. "The car was strong off the truck, and I couldn't be more proud of my crew, as it shows they didn't lose anything in the off-season."

It marked the 14th pole in 220 Cup races for Johnson and his second in seven attempts at Daytona. He won the race two years ago. The fast-qualifier award has a new sponsor -- it is named the Coors Lite Pole Award.

Crew chief Chad Knaus stated, "There's a lot of emphasis on winning the pole, and it gives us a week where you can walk around with your chest puffed out. The Chevrolet only has 12 timed laps on it, and we took a bit of a chance with it. It is pretty cool".

Car owner Rick Hendrick added, "The pole is something the guys work on all winter long. Chad and the guys had a good test, and it is great to start on the pole for Thursday's Gatorade Duel".

Michael Waltrip pushed his Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota to the second fastest time of 48.197 with a speed of 186.734 mph. For Waltrip, his accomplishment helps offset the difficulties he experienced a year ago when his car was disqualified due to a foreign substance found in the fuel line. Using a back-up car, he did race his way into the famed race.

"We have worked hard over the last three to five months, and we are proud of what we have accomplished," Waltrip said. "I missed 10 races a year ago but thanks to the support of our sponsors, we were able to continue. Daytona is the best place in the world to qualify second as newspapers around the country will carry the story and our picture."

Joe Nemechek, David Reutimann, Dave Blaney, Casey Mears, Travis Kvapil, Denny Hamlin, Boris Said and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-10 qualifiers.

Tony Stewart qualified 12th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 15th, 2007 race winner Kevin Harvick 33rd, and Juan Montoya 42nd.

The top-10 had four Chevrolets, two Fords and four Toyotas. Patrick Carpentier's 11th fastest time was the fastest for a rookie and the best run by a Dodge driver.

Johnson and Waltrip are the only two drivers with guaranteed starting positions for the Daytona 500. The other 41 positions will be determined through the results of Thursday's Gatorade Duels.

The Daytona 500 line-up will be comprised of the top-35 in owner points, the top two finishers in each Gatorade Duel that are outside the top-35, and the three fastest qualifiers that are not otherwise included. Nemechek, Reutimann and Blaney form the latter group.

Fifty-three cars took a timed run and 18 cars were required to qualify on time.

The Sprint Cup cars return to the track on Wednesday with the first of the Gatorade Duels to be flagged off on Thursday at 2 p.m.