Jimmie Johnson puts wind at his back for Sparta pole

June 29, 2012 

NASCAR Kentucky Auto Racing

Jimmie Johnson stepped from his car Friday after securing the pole position for Saturday's Quaker State 400.

JAMES CRISP — AP

SPARTA — Jimmie Johnson thought somebody had traded paint with his motorhome.

Nope, that was just the wind.

The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion took advantage of those gusts to grab the poll with a lap of 181.818 mph, edging defending champion Kyle Busch for the top spot at Kentucky Speedway on Friday night.

But first Johnson had a scary moment.

"I was sitting in my motorhome, watching qualifying on television and the bus started shaking real bad," he said. "TV was a little behind and they weren't talking about the winds, so for a minute I thought somebody backed into us."

He soon found out that it wasn't an errant driver, but rather the powerful wind that briefly suspended qualifying.

The freakish windstorm — only a few spatters of rain fell — put the brakes on qualifying for a short time. But when the cars returned, the temperature on the track had plummeted from around 140 degrees.

"It's amazing with the 30- to 40-degree drop that we had how much more grip there was in the track," said Johnson, who is fourth in the Sprint Cup standings so far this season. "But when it comes to qualifying you just have to lay it on the line and hope it works."

Busch, the last car on the track, just missed the pole at 181.421 mph. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick made up the second row, with Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer — a winner last week at Sonoma — making up row three.

Notes

■ Kentucky native Michael Waltrip is scheduled to drive a Kentucky Wildcats national championship paint scheme on his No. 55 Toyota on Saturday.

It will be the fourth time in recent years that the car's sponsor, Aaron's, has saluted a school on winning a college national championship in a Sprint Cup race.

In 2010, driver David Reut-imann ran a paint scheme at Talladega honoring Alabama's 2009 college football title. He finished 14th.

The following year at Talladega, Waltrip's car carried a salute to Auburn for its 2010 football BCS crown. He finished 28th.

Earlier this season at Talladega, Clint Bowyer's car was honoring Alabama for this past season's football national title. Bowyer finished sixth.

■ As part of a program called "NASCAR Unites — An American Salute," NASCAR will honor soldiers stationed at Fort Knox before Saturday's race.

Master Sgt. William Umbleby, Warrant Officer Charles LaFollette, Command Sgt. Major John Morales, First Sgt. Dennis Palow and Staff Sgt. Sarah Gerke are among some of the soldiers who will be recognized, NASCAR announced Thursday.

The "American Salute" program runs for six weeks between Memorial Day and Independence Day and is designed to support U.S. military families.

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