Pole keeps Johnson on roll toward title

By BRANT JAMES and KELLIE DIXON, Times Staff Writers
Published November 17, 2007

HOMESTEAD - All this perfection is getting a little weird for Jimmie Johnson.

The defending Nextel Cup champion and points leader kept his heavy grip on another title Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, winning the pole for the finale. Johnson, who has set a career best in wins (10), tied his record with his fourth pole this season. He covered the 1.5-mile track in 30.545 seconds at 176.788 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, second in points, 86 back, qualified 11th for Sunday's Ford 400.

"I'm not doing anything different, my team isn't," Johnson said. "It's just going our way. As well as it's going our way now, it could go the other direction. I've never been in this position before. It's kind of awkward."

Johnson, who has four consecutive wins and has an average finish of 4.7 in nine Chase races, needs only to finish 18th on Sunday to keep the title.

"We think running in the top five is the safest place on the track," he said.

NO FUN: Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn't so much hate the idea of the Car of Tomorrow, but the current implementation, he said, is woeful. And he's not sure how to share his opinions with NASCAR.

"I hate this (expletive) COT," he said. "Everybody is struggling with it. It doesn't drive as good as the old cars. The old cars are more fun. You can race harder with them and it's so frustrating driving these COTs because you know what technology you had and you know much more fun it was and better it was. It's 2000 and (expletive) seven and we have the technology and the ability to put a good damned race car on the racetrack and this hunk of (stuff) is what I have to drive? It's frustrating sometimes."

The boxier, ostensibly safer car will be used in all 36 points races beginning next season. Earnhardt Jr. said his problem with the car is it is "not complete," an opinion shared by many of his peers. Trouble is, Earnhardt Jr. said he's not sure how to approach NASCAR with his opinions.

"I'm nervous to tell them," he said. "If I built the COT and then these drivers came telling me what they thought about it, I'd be like, 'get the (expletive) out of here.' I wouldn't like it. I think the delivery is the most important thing, and I haven't figured out what the delivery needs to be to go in there and make sure my input is heard and is effective."

But he will join a Hendrick team that has won nine of the 15 COT races this season. Earnhardt Jr. is winless in his past 61 Cup starts.

That said ... "If I could win the championship, I really wouldn't give a (expletive) how it drove," he said.

NEW GUY: Matt Kenseth predicted a smooth transition to new crew chief Chip Bolin as longtime partner Robbie Reiser is promoted to general manager next season with Roush Fenway Racing. Reiser raced against Kenseth in Wisconsin before becoming his car owner, then crew chief at Roush in 1999.

"I'm not really worried about that at all," Kenseth said. "(Bolin) has been there the whole time that me and Robbie have been there. He was the original engineer when we started that five-race deal with Roush in '99 and he's more than ready and more than capable."

Kenseth and Reiser won the 2003 Nextel Cup and have not finished worse than eighth since 2002. Kenseth finished second in points last season.

YELLOW STRIPE GONE: Juan Pablo Montoya will conclude his rookie season Sunday in the place where he made his NASCAR debut a year ago. Now he is poised to take rookie of the year honors. Montoya, the leader in rookie points, reflected Friday on his season. The highest peak was his win at Sonoma, and the lows were the times when things would go wrong. "We had cars capable of winning and things just didn't go our way," Montoya said.