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Late run better for pole-winner Johnson

By wire services
Published May 28, 2004

CONCORD, N.C. - A late draw was the all Jimmie Johnson needed.

Going out last of the 52 drivers, Johnson edged Ryan Newman for the pole Thursday night in qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Johnson's lap of 187.052 mph was a track record, besting the mark Newman set earlier in the session.

"The way I got through Turns 1 and 2, I knew the car was really hooked up," Johnson said. "I got a little loose in Turn 3 and had to pause on the gas pedal, and I was a little nervous coming off Turn 4.

"I told the guys, "Let me know if I've got this thing.' Shortly thereafter I heard screaming and yelling, so I figured that was good enough."

Newman won both poles at Lowe's last season and held the Nextel Cup and track record. In October 2000, he ran 186.780 in qualifying for an ARCA race.

"It's just a lap, but I'd like to have it," Newman said. "We'll talk about that when we come back in October, when we come back and make another attempt to get it back."

Newman, Jeff Gordon, Elliott Sadler and rookie Brian Vickers rounded out the top five. Matt Kenseth, who won the Nextel All-Star Challenge at Lowe's last week, ended up 37th, and points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 10th.

INDYCAR: Adrian Fernandez hasn't raced at Indy for the past nine years. Kosuke Matsuura is a rookie.

Maybe that's why nobody is paying attention to their speeds.

The Fernandez Racing teammates have been among the fastest nearly every day since practice began for Sunday's Indianapolis 500. Matsuura has topped the speed chart four times and Fernandez, the team owner, has led the way twice.

They were back on top during the two-hour "Carburetion Day" session - the only time between the end of qualifying and the race in which cars are allowed on the 21/2-mile oval.

"I don't care if they call us favorites, long shots, whatever," Fernandez said. "We're ready to race."

They'll start near the front. Fernandez will be on the outside of the second row with his teammate right behind him.

Traditionally, Carb Day is strictly for shaking down the 33 cars in the starting lineup, making sure all the bolts are tightened and the hoses are connected.

Still, Matsuura was out front with a fast lap of 219.226, followed by his boss at 218.066.

"It was a very, very good test," Matsuura said. "The car is very fast and, for drafting, the car has a very good balance. Everything is perfect. I am very confident."

TV DEAL: ABC, which has televised the Indy 500 since 1965, and its cable partner ESPN extended an agreement with the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway to televise open-wheel racing through 2009.

The five-year, $65-million contract expires this year. Financial terms of the extension weren't disclosed.

Indy Racing League events have been on ABC and ESPN since the league began as a rival to the Champ Cars series in 1996. ESPN has shown Indianapolis 500 qualifying since 1987, and ESPN2 began coverage in 1996.

[Last modified May 28, 2004, 01:00:27]


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