It's not a given that Jimmie Johnson is going to win Sunday's NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway. Nor is it inevitable that he will clinch the Sprint Cup championship in next week's season finale.
But on the heels of a dominating victory at Texas Motor Speedway that moved him into the points lead, Johnson's competitors seemed ready to hand him his sixth series title after seeing him take the pole position in qualifying Friday,
"He's been in kill mode for a while," third-place qualifier Joey Logano said. "When they are running for that championship, they find that extra notch that a lot of other teams can't find."
One of the last cars to post a qualifying time, Johnson took the No. 1 starting position with a lap of 139.222 mph. He will share the front row with Denny Hamlin. Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon qualified fourth and fifth, respectively.
Johnson's third pole of the season gives him a decided advantage Sunday. Recently repaved, the one-mile Phoenix oval has proved challenging with drivers having difficulty passing. The spring event was devoid of much side-by-side racing with most passing being done in the pits and in the laps shortly following a restart.
By nature of securing the pole, Johnson will have first choice of pit stalls. However, the series points leader isn't ready to assume anything.
"It's still a long race and a lot can happen," Johnson said. "Strategy plays a big part in what takes place on Sunday during the race here. We did ourselves a lot of favors today with getting the pole and that first pit stall. Track position to start the race with and a lot of things directional will be in our favor. We've still got to go out there and go to work and get the job done on Sunday. But it's a great start to the weekend."
Matt Kenseth, seven points behind Johnson in the championship, qualified 14th.
AdvoCare 500 starting lineup
|10)||Martin Truex Jr.||138.069|
|11)||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||138.053|
|19)||Juan Pablo Montoya||137.153|
|27)||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||135.947|