LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson gave Hendrick Motorsports a needed bright spot, turning a lap of 133.971 mph Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to win his first pole of the season. Johnson, a two-time race winner this season, could use a boost following a five-race slump where he failed to finish better than 13th. He has crashed out of his last two races, finishing 35th at Daytona International Speedway and 32nd last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.
LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson gave Hendrick Motorsports a needed bright spot, turning a lap of 133.971 mph Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to win his first pole of the season.
Johnson, a two-time race winner this season, could use a boost following a five-race slump where he failed to finish better than 13th. He has crashed out of his last two races, finishing 35th at Daytona International Speedway and 32nd last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.
He was the lone Hendrick Motorsports driver in the top five.
Hendrick suffered a blow this week when Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped out of Sunday's race because he suffered from symptoms of a concussion. Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon will drive the No. 88 Chevrolet next week at Indianapolis if Earnhardt is not cleared to return.
Alex Bowman, making his first Sprint Cup start of the season, qualified 20th subbing for Earnhardt.
Johnson, Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott have all contributed to Hendrick Motorsports losing drought over the last 13 races. Johnson's March 20th win in Fontana, California, was the last for a Hendrick driver.
Kyle Busch was second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin.
"The car wasn't driving as well as I would have liked it to drive for qualifying," Busch said. "But good speed, that's what matters right now and being able to put up a good lap like that."
Here's what else was going on during Friday's qualifying:
IT'S ON THE POLE
Johnson has 35 poles in 526 career NASCAR starts and first in 29 career Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire. He's a three-time winner at New Hampshire and one of only two drivers to win two straight times on the track. Johnson has nine top-10 starts this season.
Earnhardt, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Aric Almirola were the only drivers to participate in a two-day Goodyear tire test last month at New Hampshire.
"The fact that Dale tested here, it makes (his absence) a larger issue," Johnson said. "Those face-to-face conversations are so much more important than reading notes. We're going to miss that part, for sure."
DRIVE FOR FIVE
Brad Keselowski starts ninth as he tries for his fifth victory of the season.
"It is nice to have four wins. I wish they meant more. When it comes Chase time, I have four stickers on my car and that is about it," he said.
The 23-year-old Bowman has not raced in the Cup series this season and had no top-10 finishes in 71 starts over the 2014-2015 seasons with BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. He drives part-time in the second-tier Xfinity Series for Earnhardt's JR Motorsports team.
"I felt like we probably could have qualified a little better," he said. "I probably didn't do the best job I possibly could have and we got a little too tight off. Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has worked really hard on this thing. Obviously, I hope Dale is feeling better
"It's been a crazy 24 hours. I'm ready to go take a nap, eat some food and relax a little bit until tomorrow."
Is everyone sure Gordon knows he might be driving next weekend? Gordon is in France this weekend, which ruled him out for a potential return at New Hampshire.
"Somebody better call him, I think he's in the south of France drinking rose," Johnson said. "We need to sober him up and get him back."