Johnson on Chicagoland pole for Chase opener; Junior to start at back wire reports

Jimmie Johnson is well positioned to get his first Cup win at Chicagoland. (Getty Images)  
Jimmie Johnson is well positioned to get his first Cup win at Chicagoland. (Getty Images)  

Jimmie Johnson won the pole for this weekend's NASCAR race at Chicagoland Speedway -- an impressive start for the five-time champion whose streak of series titles came to an end last year.

The 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup begins with Sunday's 400-mile race, but Johnson shrugged off any talk of an immediate statement.

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"It's too early in the Chase to be over-the-top excited or down and out if you didn't qualify like you wanted to," Johnson said.

Johnson qualified at 182.865 mph, good enough for his second pole of the year and 27th of his career. The other 11 drivers in the Chase had mixed results in qualifying. Matt Kenseth was third, one spot ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne was sixth -- but Earnhardt will have to start from the back because of an engine change.

"I don't think we are super concerned," said Steve Letarte, Earnhardt's crew chief. "We had a great car in practice and qualified really well so we showed we have good speed. Fortunately, this is a racetrack that there are multiple pit strategies and it's not a really simple straightforward pit strategy to call. I think there will be a lot of opportunities to use our good pit stops and place on pit road to get back toward the front."

Johnson has never won a Cup race at this track. If he can leave with a victory in the Chase opener, then that may be the time to celebrate a bit.

"I think a win sends a statement for sure. I'm not so sure that it's because I haven't won here before," Johnson said. "I've been so close before, that I don't think the statement would really be in that. ... We know what wins mean, and we know what max points mean, and it would be more in that than anything."

Denny Hamlin, the top seed in the Chase, was eighth, a spot ahead of Clint Bowyer.

Not everyone in the Chase qualified near the top, though. Brad Keselowski was 13th, Martin Truex Jr. was 18th and Jeff Gordon was 19th. Greg Biffle was 22nd, defending champion Tony Stewart qualified 29th and Kevin Harvick was all the way back in 35th.

"Really loose. We were all over the place on that lap," Stewart said. "Sunday is when it matters."

Aric Almirola, who isn't part of the Chase, qualified second.

Copyright 2016 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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