WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Jimmie Johnson may not have a road course victory on his extensive Sprint Cup Series resume, but its not for lack of trying.
Johnson, who has won the past three Cup championships, earned his first series road course pole Friday and will lead the field in Sundays Heluva Good! at the Glen at Watkins Glen International.
Johnson started first in the 2004 race at Watkins Glen, but rain canceled qualifying and Johnson received the No. 1 starting position by virtue of leading the car owner standings.
His previous best start on a road course through qualifying was a pair of second-place starts at Sonoma, Calif., in 2005 and 2008.
Im looking for that first road course win, said Johnson, whose previous best road course finish was third at Watkins Glen in 2007. I think that were getting closer and closer.
At Sonoma, we overcame a lot and finished fourth and I left there extremely optimistic for this race. Last year, we were really fast.
Johnsons lap at 123.633 mph just barely eclipsed that of Kurt Busch (123.619 mph), who was fastest in the Friday afternoon practice session.
Last weekends race winner, Denny Hamlin, will start third. Marcos Ambrose will start fourth and David Stremme fifth. Series points leader Tony Stewart will line up 13th.
Johnson said with his background in off-road racing, he expected to adjust well to road racing in the Cup series.
In his first eight road course races four each at Sonoma and Watkins Glen Johnson had three top-five finishes. He also finished 35th or worse three times.
Its been kind of weird for me and I dont understand it, Johnson said. I dont know what it is about the Cup car that Ive had some troubles with, but Im getting closer and I think more seat time is helpful.
Johnsons Hendrick Motorsports teammates dont think his absence from Victory Lane at a road course diminishes his stellar Cup record.
I think hes proven how good he is by winning at so many different tracks already, said Jeff Gordon, who has nine road course wins. Im sure in his mind he would like to add that to his resume to complete it. I know hes worked hard at it.
Thats what makes a good road course driver is somebody who is challenged by it and enjoys that challenge and goes after it. Jimmie certainly has.
Mark Martin agrees.
You know hes the guy I call Superman and I dont think Superman needs a road course win to complete (his resume), Martin said of Johnson. He doesnt have to win a road course race to continue to be Superman in my book.
Hes fast. Hes fast on a road course. But well push him (to win one) anyway. He is very competitive and I think its one of those matter-of-time-deals when everything has to line up just right.
Joe Nemechek, Brian Simo and David Gilliland failed to make the field for Sundays race.
Road-racing ace Boris Said, who has had fast cars at the Glen in recent years only to see his chance at qualifying ruined by bad weather, will start ninth.