Johnson grabs pole

Monday, February 11, 2008
NASCAR drivers Michael Waltrip, left, and Jimmie Johnson displayed their trophies Sunday after they qualified for the front row of the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla. (TONY RENNA ~ Associated Press)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut just keeps on rolling.

Reigning NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson won his second Daytona 500 pole less than 24 hours after new Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag in the non-points Budweiser Shootout.

Michael Waltrip, disgraced last year at Daytona when his then-new team was caught in the post-qualifying inspection using an illegal fuel additive in his Toyota, had a great run Sunday, taking the outside pole.

Only the top two qualifiers locked in starting positions for next week's 50th running of the Daytona 500.

The top 35 drivers from last season's car owners points are guaranteed a starting spot in the 43-car field and Waltrip was one of 18 drivers who began the day competing for the few remaining positions.

The rest of the starting field will be determined Thursday in two 150-mile qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway.

Johnson, hoping to join Cale Yarborough as the stock car sport's only drivers to win three consecutive Cup titles, previously won the pole here in 2002 and won the race in 2006.

He had to drive a backup car, one of his team's short track entries, in the Shootout after a crash in practice on Friday. Johnson called it "a brick" before going out and nearly winning Saturday night's race.

Johnson was third in that race, with fellow Hendrick drivers Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears fourth and sixth. On Sunday, Mears qualified sixth, three-time 500 winner Gordon was 10th and Earnhardt 15th.

The car Johnson drove Sunday was designed to be run on the 2.5-mile, high-banked Daytona oval, and he couldn't have been happier with it.

"Last night, we had a great race, but I really look forward to what this car can do in the Daytona 500," Johnson said after winning the pole.

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