Johnson easily wraps up pole at Richmond qualifying

9/8/2007 - NASCAR

RICHMOND, Va. -- Jimmie Johnson looks ready for NASCAR's playoffs.

In the last race before the Nextel Cup Series Chase for the
championship starts, Johnson posted a qualifying lap that blew away
the field at Richmond International Raceway. His speed was 126.296
mph; No. 2 Jeff Gordon qualified at 125.342 mph.

"I figured out how to drive this track when we were here in the
spring," said Johnson, who outran Hendrick Motorsports teammate
Kyle Busch to win here in the spring. Busch qualified third Friday,
giving Hendrick the top three spots in the field.

Gordon said it was clear early that Johnson had done something
special. He was just the second car to make his run, and typically
speeds get better as darkness falls.

Not this time.

Before making his laps, Gordon said he looked at what had
happened so far and thought, "He must have put a really good lap
down because nobody was close to him."

That includes Earnhardt, who will start 21st -- behind both of
the drivers he can still knock out of the Chase. No. 11 Kurt Busch
will start 14th, No. 12 Kevin Harvick 13th.

If Earnhardt wins the Chevy 400 on Saturday night and leads the
most laps for the biggest possible points haul, Kurt Busch needs to
finish 36th or better to clinch a spot in the Chase, and Harvick
needs to finish 32nd or better to guarantee his spot.

With a series-leading five victories, Johnson would be the top
seed if the playoff were to start today. Each victory gives a
driver 10 bonus points in the Chase; Gordon is second with four
wins. Johnson said he'll be looking to extend his advantage in the

With a chance to win at the end, "I'll be extremely
aggressive," he said. "I have nothing to hold back for. If I'm
running 15th, there's no sense in going out there and risking
getting somebody really mad at me and having to do all kinds of

The starting order will also have Ryan Newman fourth as the
first Dodge off the line, Denny Hamlin fifth in another Chevrolet
and Carl Edwards sixth in a Ford.