Johnson claims pole at Phoenix to tighten grip on Chase

Updated: November 8, 2008, 10:42 AM ET
Associated Press

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Jimmie Johnson moved a step closer to a third consecutive Sprint Cup title by winning the pole Friday at Phoenix International Speedway.

Johnson, the defending race winner, turned a lap of 134.725 mph in his Chevrolet to earn the top starting spot Sunday. If he gains 57 more points than Carl Edwards, Johnson would only need to start the season finale to become the first driver since Cale Yarborough (1976-78) to win three straight titles.

"That's really the bottom line is we need to be 162 up leaving here, then all I have to do is go down there and start," Johnson said. "Am I planning on that being the case? No. Carl's car has been so strong. My goal is to outrun him. I don't want this margin to shrink anymore."

Edwards, who had the fastest car in Friday's final practice session, qualified 15th because he said the engine in his Ford bogged down on the backstretch during his lap. Winner of the last two races, Edwards has chopped away at Johnson's lead and now trails him by just 106 points with two events to go.

Johnson
Johnson

"I really like this track," said Edwards, who has five top 10 finishes at Phoenix in eight career starts. "We've been very fast here in the past. It's a really fun race and I feel good about it."

Jamie McMurray qualified second in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford and was followed by Kurt Busch in a Dodge for Penske Racing and David Reutimann in a Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth and was followed by Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin. Paul Menard and Mark Martin rounded out the top 10.

Only 44 cars attempted to qualify, so Joe Nemechek was the only driver failing to make the field.

The attention now turns to Sunday, where Johnson will try to pull the title out of Edwards' reach.

He used this track to put the closing touches on his first two titles, finishing fourth in 2006 to take a healthy lead into Homestead. A year ago, he won -- his fourth consecutive win of the season -- to deflate teammate Gordon's title hopes.

"This is one of our better tracks," he said. "I think history shows that Homestead's been better -- has been better for the Roush guys -- so I want to leave here without using any points. If I get to 56 points and end up 162 ahead, right on. I mean that's the ultimate goal. But the goal is to outrun [Edwards], wherever that is."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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