Jimmie Johnson takes Sprint Cup pole at Pocono

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One weekend after a slow final stop cost him the Brickyard 400, Jimmie Johnson has put himself on the pole for Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway after posting a track-record lap at 180.654 miles per hour. Inspection issues once again kept Johnson from qualifying in his original spot on the order (24th), causing him to be the 28th driver to make a run instead according to NASCAR.com.

“We had to go through a second time,” said Johnson, who noted that he had a beneficial bit of cloud cover to aid him during his attempt. “The left-rear tow was off a whopping one-thousandth of an inch. We had to go through again and rolled up there and ran our lap.”

Three weeks ago at New Hampshire, Johnson was late for qualifying and posted the second-fastest time but was disqualified in post-race inspection, as his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was found to have too low of a ride height.

But Johnson, who won at Pocono earlier this summer, will have clear track ahead of him on Sunday. The same goes for Kyle Busch, who qualified second with a lap at 180.639 mph – or four one-thousandths of a second off of Johnson’s time.

“I wish we would’ve went later,” said Busch. “I think we would’ve had a better race track with 10 degrees cooler at least. But, it was about all I could get.”

Row 2 will feature Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman, who took advantage of Johnson’s misfortune and won last weekend at Indianapolis. The third row will have Kurt Busch and Joey Logano, followed by Greg Biffle and Marcos Ambrose in Row 4, and Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola in Row 5.

Other notables include defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski in 11th, current Chase wild card holders Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. in 20th and 26th respectively, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 25th, and Danica Patrick in 34th.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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