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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Michelin appoints new North American motorsports director

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Michelin North America has named Tony Ménard as director of motorsports, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Ménard is succeeding Chris Baker, who has held the role for the past eight years. Baker is scheduled to retire in March of 2020, ending a lengthy career that began with Michelin in 1982.

“Chris has played a vital role in the growth and success of our motorsports program, both for BFGoodrich and Michelin in North America,” said Matthieu Bonardel, global director for Michelin Group’s motorsports business entity. “His passion and understanding for motorsport fueled growth in the organization and established credibility in the market. Chris’s leadership propelled the Group, which experienced tremendous success with race wins, and advanced the way the brands leveraged our motorsports participation to benefit the overall business.”

A native of Le Mans, France, Ménard has served in several positions during his 30-year career with Michelin, most recently serving global business leader for Michelin brand in the passenger-vehicle category. Ménard has worked closely with the North American motorsports team since early July in preparation for the transition.

Baker oversaw the development of the motorsports function for Michelin and BFGoodrich Tires brands as a single business unit in North America. He also directed the expansion of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA sports-car racing as the “Official Tire of IMSA” and BFGoodrich Tires partnership with SCORE International Racing as the “Official Tire of SCORE.”

During Baker’s tenure, BFGoodrich achieved an unprecedented 650 off-road class wins, including five overall victories in the Baja 1000. The brand also demonstrated performance in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing, Ultra4 King of Hammers, and provided strong support of grass roots racing across North America with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Super Production Challenge in Canada.

“I am incredibly grateful to Michelin for the opportunities and support throughout my career, and to all the folks that I have worked with and continue to work with,” Baker said. “I want to thank all the teams, partners, officials and fans who have made our relationships so successful and are essential to the brands’ successes. I look forward to witnessing the continued success of our motorsports programs under Tony’s leadership, as well as the contributions of the Michelin Motorsport North America staff and volunteers, who are completely dedicated and invested in representing our brands in competition.”