LONG POND, Pa. — Jimmie Johnson needed multiple attempts to make it through pre-qualifying inspection, then set a track record with a lap of 180.654 mph to win the pole Friday at Pocono Raceway.
Kyle Busch? He could only think the five-time Sprint Cup champion and crew were up to no good.
Johnson went 29th instead of his scheduled 24th spot, and the later start under the clouds as the track got faster may have given him an advantage over the cars that went out under the sun. Johnson had inspection issues last month at New Hampshire and used another late start to qualify third until his time was scrapped after the No. 48 failed inspection.
Are Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus just working around the rules? Or can they simply not get the car in tune in time for inspection?
“A lot of these other teams figure out how to play by the rules,” Busch said. “It seems like there’s one that’s sometimes late. Quite often, more than the rest.”
Busch will start second and Carl Edwards third. Ryan Newman, last week’s race winner at the Brickyard, starts fourth. Kurt Busch is fifth.
Johnson is tied with Matt Kenseth with a series-high four wins this season and he leads the points standings as he chases his sixth championship. Johnson is in position to go for the season sweep at Pocono, where he won from the pole in June. Johnson took that pole after the field was set on points because rain washed out qualifying.
Johnson took the top spot this time after a second pass through inspection. NASCAR determined the tow on his Chevrolet was off by one-thousandth of an inch — just enough to make Busch suspicious.
“There’s been some times this year where those guys go through four, five, six times and they’re always late,” Busch said. “Every time they’re late, they’re always fast. Maybe we need to be late.”