Saturday, November 21, 2009

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Johnson Takes Pole in Homestead Finale

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

As the top three NASCAR touring series wrap up their 2009 seasons at Homestead-Miami Speedway, only the NASCAR Sprint Cup series has a title which is still up for grabs ( Kyle Busch simply needs to take the green flag in Saturday's Ford 300 NASCAR Nationwide race to wrap up that title). Just 108 points ahead of the hungry Mark Martin, 3-time Sprint Cup championship Jimmie Johnson is intending to lock up his unprecedented 4th title in a row. Having set himself into a perfect flight path to by winning 4 of the 9 races in the chase, Johnson needs only to place his #48 Lowes Chevy in a spot 25th or better to counter any effort made by Mark Martin and his #5 Chevrolet.

As the Hendrick Motorsports teammates plan to duo for the 2009 Cup, one thing that remains certain is car owner Rick Hendrick will hold his 9th Cup series championship in 1995. This 2009 championship will place Hendrick just one short of the record 10 Cup championships secured by the Petty Enterprises operation.

In Qualifying for the season finale Ford 400, Mark Martin did exactly what he needed to do in attempting to win a long-fought first Cup championship. Setting the #5 Kelloggs/Carquest Chevrolet at the top spot, Martin was only 2 of the first 15 cars to set time in qualifying to remain in the top 15 at the completion of qualifying. Attribute the warmer afternoon 82 degree Fahrenheit weather creating a slicker track surface for the earlier runners for the poor overall showings for many top drivers at Homestead-Miami Speedway(Kyle Busch is starting in 30th and 2007 race winner Matt Kenseth placed deep into the 34th starting spot.

Leaving 33th for qualifying was the driver and car who captured the Homestead-Miami Speedway pole. Maybe feeling that the pressure of his 4th championship isn't enough, Jimmie Johnson placed his #48 Chevrolet right at the front of the 43 car starting grid. After Johnson's qualifying attempt, Scott Speed and Marcus Ambrose performed runs to take the 2nd and 3rd spot. In fact, Speed in the #82 Red Bull Toyota was the last car out on the track and almost challenged the #48 Chevy.

Rounding out the top 10 in qualifying for the Ford 400 are Tony Stewart in 5th, Kevin Harvick 6th, Ryan Newman 7th, Greg Biffle 8th, Bill Elliott 9th, and Clint Boywer 10th. Surprises near the front of the grid includes Regan Smith in the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet as well as Michael McDowell's #36 Baldwin Racing Toyota. Managing to place race cars from underfunded race teams in 16th and 18th place starting positions.

Starting in 20th place for the Ford 400, Jeff Gordon prepares to hold off Kurt Busch who sits 42 points behind the #24 car driver in the Chase. This is significant because if Gordon can maintain 3rd in the points, he could conclude Hendrick's dominance of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship by sweeping the top 3 in the standings.

For the fourth and final Hendrick Motorsports car of Dale Earnhardt Jr, the team could only manage a forgettable 32rd place starting spot. Running 8th in practice earlier in the day, an early session run for Dale Earnhardt Jr's qualifying attempt likely contributed to the poor qualifying result. Nonetheless, this is another run of misfortune for the entire #88 team for the NASCAR Sprint Cup 2009. As the other three Hendrick Motorsports drivers occupy the top 3 spot in the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Earnhardt Jr rests 24th in the points standings between Martin Truex Jr and AJ Allmendinger.

Deciding the outcome of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Sunday's Ford 400 is set to start at 3:15 eastern time.

NASCAR Sprint Cup
2009 Ford 400 Starting Grid

Top 10

1. Jimmie Johnson (C)
2. Scott Speed
3. Marcus Ambrose
4. Mark Martin (C)
5. Tony Stewart (C)
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Ryan Newman (C)
8. Greg Biffle (C)
9. Bill Elliott
10. Clint Bowyer

Other Notables

11. Jamie McMurray
12. Kurt Busch (C)
13. AJ Allendinger
16. Regan Smith
17. David Gilliland
18. Michael McDowell
20. Jeff Gordon (C)
23. Juan Pablo Montoya (C)
24. Carl Edwards (C)
25. Kasey Kahne (C)
31. Kyle Busch
33. Dale Earnhardt Jr
35. Matt Kenseth

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