Johnson wins Pocono pole

August 1, 2008 4:49:29 PM PDT
Mark Martin has a warning for everyone in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series: Look out for Jimmie Johnson. Johnson won his second pole in a row and third of the season Friday at Pocono Raceway, knocking Martin off the top spot in qualifying for the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500.

Coming off a second-place run at Chicago and a victory last week at Indianapolis, it appears Johnson has found his stride after a relatively slow start for the two-time reigning Cup champion.

"What I saw last weekend, because I watched pretty close, and what I saw this weekend, the field should be very frightened," Martin said. "I ran that lap and (crew chief) Tony Gibson was telling me how awesome it was and everything. I said, `Man, if Jimmie can beat that, he can have it.'

"Well, he not only beat me, he humiliated me by 2 tenths (of a second). Those guys are looking pretty potent right now."

Martin turned a lap of 167.560 mph that looked like it probably would hold up for his first pole since 2001. But Johnson moved him to the outside of the front row for Sunday's race with a sizzling 168.215.

"It was a very smooth and comfortable lap," said Johnson, who now has 16 career poles.

Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet team got off to what, for them, was a slow start this season, struggling to figure out the Car of Tomorrow. But things seem to be falling into place now.

"We've really improved on things since last spring," said Johnson, fourth in the season points with six races to go until the start of the 10-race Chase for the championship.

"I think we've gone in the right direction. There has been a lot of hard work throughout all of Hendrick Motorsports and it's nice to see it coming together. I'm glad I did my job and hit my marks. It's a very technical track, a lot like Indy, where it's easy to miss one of the corners."

While Johnson is pleased with his recent surge, he is trying hard not to get ahead of himself.

"Right now, our first goal is that we've got to make the Chase," he said. "One thing I'm proud of this team for is we never want to be fat and happy. With six races until the start of the Chase, there's a lot of time for (other) guys to figure things out. We need to act like a top-five team and run like a top-five team. We'll reflect on what we accomplished at the end of the year, so let's just stay hungry."

Behind the two fast Chevys, David Gilliland was third fastest in a Ford at 167.187, followed by Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon at 167.106 in another Chevrolet.

Matt Kenseth's Ford was next at 166.883, with the Dodges of Ryan Newman at 166.784 and June Pocono winner Kasey Kahne at 166.522.

Brian Vickers, in a Toyota, was also at 166.522, with the third Ford of Greg Biffle at 166.516 and the Dodge of Kurt Busch at 166.445, rounding out the top 10.

And, despite his warning, Martin, who came up short in his forecast of a win last week at Indy, noted that Johnson might not be the only driver to be wary of as the season continues.

"Don't forget, just as 48 has risen, there's someone else who's going to rise before Chase time," he added.

Series points leader Kyle Busch, who has a series-leading seven victories but finished last here in June, will start 27th.

Only 44 cars were entered here this week, with Chad Chaffin the only driver failing to make the race field.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-08-01-08 1851EDT