FORT WORTH, Texas – Jimmie Johnson is back in the saddle again.
After leading first practice at Texas Motor Speedway and the first two rounds of qualifying, the seven-time champion bumped his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott from the top spot with seconds remaining in the final round with a lap at 188.890 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The Busch Pole Award is the first for Johnson in 96 races, 36th of his career and his second at the 1.5-mile track.
“It’s been a long couple of years and we still have a ways to go and certainly race day is much more important than Friday,” said Johnson after earning his 36th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup pole. “We’re working so hard and I think we’re a bit guilty of trying too hard and maybe stepping outside of our comfort zone at times and putting set-ups on the car that just quite aren’t proven yet.
“With all that said, we were very aggressive coming here, changed a lot of stuff around on our mile-and-a-half program. Top of the charts all day long. It’s a great start. I’m really proud of everybody keeping the faith and working hard.”
William Byron, who crossed the line after Johnson, topped Elliott for second in time trials.
“That is just a credit to the guys really, just giving us a fast car,” Byron said. “Teamwork man. Just keeping the communication down to get that hole that we did. Just teamwork. So it’s all good. It’s awesome.”
Daniel Suarez’s strategy of making a single-car run and not relying on the draft paid off for the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang. He finished fourth in Round 2 to advance to the Final Round. He’ll roll off fourth on Sunday.
“I was planning to go by myself without helping anyone, so I waited until everyone was shut off so I could go quick and they didn’t have time to re-fire and then go,” Suarez said. “That part played out well. The part that we just missed a little bit is that we were expecting them to make more mistakes or to wait a little bit longer, but they didn’t.
“It was a good effort. That was our gamble. We were out of trouble and the car was good, fast and we didn’t have to work as hard as they did that’s for sure.”
Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Hemric, Joey Logano, Ty Dillon and Bubba Wallace rounded out the top 10.
With four minutes remaining in the first round of qualifying, Alex Bowman bounced off the wall in Turn 2. He had posted the seventh-fastest lap to advance to the next round, but was unable to continue. Bowman was seen and released from the infield care center.
“I think Alex would have been right there if he hadn’t had his problems in Round 1,” Johnson added.
Jimmie Johnson, currently on a 65-race winless streak, has won seven times at Texas Motor Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series; including once from the pole (2012).