CONCORD, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson was fastest when it mattered Thursday, setting the fastest lap during knockout qualifying in the third and final session to earn the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600.
Johnson’s 27.705-second lap at 194.911 mph wasn’t just the fastest lap in the final five-minute qualifying session, but it was also the fastest lap recorded during Sprint Cup qualifying at the 1.5-mile oval.
The pole is the 33rd of Johnson’s career and his third at Charlotte Motor Speedway, tying him for 20th on the all-time pole winners list with Fonty Flock. Johnson was able to turn two of his previous poles at Charlotte into victories, including a triumph in the 2004 Coca-Cola 600.
“Qualifying today was really interesting to start with the sun kind of out and with a warmer track temp,” Johnson said. “As the session went on the grip level came in, the adjustments we made to the car got the car better and better. To have my fastest lap around here come on my third time out on the race track was kind of mind boggling.”
Brad Keselowski qualified second after his 27.754-second lap at 194.567 mph. He will start on the front row for the seventh time in 12 Sprint Cup events this season. This is his sixth second-place start this year.
“Pretty happy with our qualifying effort here today. We were pretty miserable to begin with. My guys kept working on it and we somehow ended up second,” Keselowski said.
Kasey Kahne qualified third, followed by Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top 10. Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth also advanced to the final round of knockout qualifying, but neither driver completed a lap and they will start 11th and 12th respectively.
Harvick had the fastest time in the opening round of knockout qualifying, leading the way with a 27.845-second lap at 193.931 mph around CMS. He was followed by Brian Vickers, Justin Allgaier, Martin Truex Jr. and Tony Stewart.
Among those failing to advance past round one where Kyle Larson, All-Star Race winner Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman. Dave Blaney and J.J. Yeley failed to qualify for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
Patrick shocked many by setting the fastest time during the second round of knockout qualifying. She topped the charts with a 27.750-second lap 194.595 mph, besting Kyle Busch, Harvick, Hamlin and Johnson. The biggest names that failed to advance to the final round of qualifying were Stewart and Carl Edwards.