Jimmie Johnson takes Coca-Cola 600 pole, is first win of 2014 next? Also, Danica Patrick qualifies 4th

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Still in the hunt for his first win of 2014, Jimmie Johnson took a big step in that direction on Thursday, earning the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion set the pace for Sunday’s longest and grueling race of the season with a speed of 194.911 mph. It was his fourth career pole for the 600.

“We don’t care what anybody says about this race team, we know what we’re capable of,” Johnson said. “We knew we had a great race car today and wanted to take advantage of it. We celebrated (after winning the pole), executed and we did our jobs.

“Qualifying days usually aren’t our best, but when we qualify well, we know we’re going to race well, so I’m real optimistic about Sunday. I look forward to giving it a good run Sunday night.”

Brad Keselowski will start on the outside pole, qualifying with a speed of 194.567 mph. It’s Keselowski’s seventh front row start in the first 12 races of 2012.

“We’ve qualified second a lot this year,” Keselowski said with a laugh. “Doggone it, it’s like kissing your sister. We’re running where we want to run up front, we just have to get a little better finishes.”

Kasey Kahne was third-fastest (193.618), followed by Danica Patrick’s best qualifying effort of the season thus far at 193.334 mph, which is also the best qualifying position for a female racer ever at CMS. It’s also Patrick’s best qualifying effort on a non-restrictor plate track and her second-best overall qualifying effort in her Sprint Cup career.

Patrick is still riding momentum from her career-best finish of seventh two weeks ago at Kansas.

Clint Bowyer was fifth-fastest (193.244), while sixth through 10th were Denny Hamlin (193.119), Kyle Busch (193.092), Joey Logano (192.472), Marcos Ambrose (191.673) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (191.272).

The other two drivers to advance to the third and final round of knockout qualifying were Matt Kenseth, also winless in 2014, followed by Kevin Harvick.

Of note in the qualifying session:

* Time ran out for Harvick and Kenseth, who failed to make qualifying runs in the third and final session.

* Points leader Jeff Gordon struggled and will start 27th.

* Kurt Busch, who will attempt to be the first driver to race earlier Sunday in the Indianapolis 500 and then compete in the evening’s Coca-Cola 600, will start 28th.

Here’s the starting lineup for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600:

Row 1 Jimmie Johnson (194.911 mph), Brad Keselowski (194.567)

Row 2 Kasey Kahne (193.618), Danica Patrick (193.334)

Row 3 Clint Bowyer (193.244), Denny Hamlin (193119)

Row 4 Kyle Busch (193.092), Joey Logano (192.472)

Row 5 Marcos Ambrose (191.673), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (191.272)

Row 6 Kevin Harvick (193.959), Matt Kenseth (192.898)

Row 7 Aric Almirola (192.692), Trevor Bayne (192.486)

Row 8 Martin Truex Jr. (192.438), Brian Vickers (192.027)

Row 9 Justin Allgaier (191.945), Tony Stewart (191.925)

Row 10 Brian Scott (191.884), AJ Allmendinger (191.829)

Row 11 Paul Menard (191.707), Carl Edwards 189.980)

Row 12 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (189.208), Greg Biffle (184.344)

Row 13 Kyle Larson (190.840), Jamie McMurray (190.255)

Row 14 Jeff Gordon (189.673), Kurt Busch (189.553)

Row 15 Alex Bowman (189.514), Michael McDowell (189.148)

Row 16 Cole Whitt (189.115), Austin Dillon (189.062)

Row 17 David Gilliland (188.732), Casey Mears (188.534)

Row 18 David Ragan (188.455), Ryan Truex (188.422)

Row 19 Josh Wise (188.258), Joe Nemechek (187.963)

Row 20 Michael Annett (187.806), Landon Cassill (187.559)

Row 21 Reed Sorenson (187.207), Ryan Newman (186.890)

Row 22 Blake Koch (185.931)

DID NOT QUALIFY: Dave Blaney, J.J. Yeley

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Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”