Last indeed shall be first
Going out last of the 52 drivers, Johnson edged Ryan Newman for the pole Thursday night in qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Johnson's lap of 187.052 mph was a track record, besting the mark Newman set earlier in the session.
"The way I got through Turns 1 and 2, I knew the car was really hooked up,'' Johnson said. "I got a little loose in Turn 3 and had to pause on the gas pedal, and I was a little nervous coming off Turn 4.
"I told the guys, 'Let me know if I've got this thing.' Shortly thereafter, I heard screaming and yelling, so I figured that was good enough.''
Newman won both poles at Lowe's last season, and held both the Nextel Cup and overall track record. In October 2000, he ran 186.780 in qualifying for an ARCA race.
"It's just a lap, but I'd like to have it,'' Newman said. "We'll talk about that when we come back in October, when we come back and make another attempt to get it back.''
Newman, Jeff Gordon, Elliott Sadler and rookie Brian Vickers rounded out the top five. Matt Kenseth, who won the Nextel All-Star Challenge at Lowe's last week, ended up 37th, and points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 10th.
In last Saturday's Nextel All-Star Challenge, Busch bumped his Roush Racing teammate into the wall on the frontstretch and started an 11-car pileup. Biffle blasted Busch in the immediate aftermath, and they didn't talk until Tuesday.
And then, it was on the phone.
"That helped solidify things,'' Busch said. "It's been real easy to work through this because of how long I've known Biffle. So we've got things ironed out.''
Busch admittedly erred in his attempt to help Biffle pass Matt Kenseth, another Roush teammate. Biffle understood it was an accident, but that didn't help much.
"I think getting wrecked on the straightaway by your teammate certainly would be something to set a guy off,'' Biffle said. "That would be like your neighbor burning down your house by accident -- you're going to be upset.''
Rudd's newfound power
Ricky Rudd has the advantage this week.
Ford has a new cylinder head which provides more horsepower, but only a small number of them are available. And since they are a bit experimental, Biffle and Jeff Burton declined the offer to use them this weekend.
Rudd was the only driver to accept them.
"We'll take it, we need all the help we can get,'' Rudd said. "I'm sure it's a deal where other guys probably didn't trust them to last the whole 600 miles.''
Roush, one of the developers of the new head, advised Biffle and Burton to turn down the new parts.
"If I was running for a championship and this race meant as much as any other race did and it was essential to my making the final top 10 in points, I would say no,'' Roush told them.
They heeded his suggestion.
Todd Bodine picked up a sponsor the next eight races from Carter's Royal Dispos-all, a scrap metal and transfer station from Toccoa, Ga. "It's something we needed,'' Bodine said. "Hopefully, it'll work out for the two of us.'' ... Robbie Loomis, Gordon's crew chief, missed practice and qualifying to attend to his mother, who is ill. He is expected back for practice Saturday. ... Sterling Marlin was a presenter at the Country Music Association awards show Wednesday night in Las Vegas. "We flew out there and then right back,'' he said. "Didn't get back until about 4 o'clock this morning.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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