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Jimmie Johnson on pole on Texas after slight Cup qualifying changes

UPDATED: Fri., March 29, 2019

Jimmie Johnson (48) aims a rifle in victory lane after taking the pole position for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, March 29, 2019. (LM Otero / Associated Press)
Jimmie Johnson (48) aims a rifle in victory lane after taking the pole position for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, March 29, 2019. (LM Otero / Associated Press)
By Stephen Hawkins Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – Jimmie Johnson will start on the pole at Texas, where he is a seven-time winner.

With Johnson leading the way after a final-stage fast lap of 188.890 mph to get his first pole anywhere since 2016, Hendrick Motorsports took the top three qualifying spots Friday. William Bryon was second, and Chase Elliott third.

NASCAR made some tweaks to its group qualifying procedures after all 12 drivers in the final round failed to log an official lap two weeks ago at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway in California. Drivers idled on pit road until the final second to attempt their qualifying lap, and they all blew the timing.

There were still some issues in Texas, with Clint Bowyer calling qualifying an “epic failure” after he was 25th. He was upset after the first stage, when he said he was impeded by Ryan Newman trying to get on the track during the first stage and eventually missed the cutoff for the top 24 to get to the second stage.

Then in the 10-minute second stage, and five-minute final stage, most drivers again sat on pit road until late in the clock to hit the track for qualifying laps. Nobody logged more than two laps in either of the last two stages.

“We’re obviously disappointed with what happened,” said Jay Fabian, the director of the Cup Series. “We’re disappointed with what we saw. Nobody deserves to see that. Our fans don’t deserve to see that. We’re going to take whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again.”

As for what changes could be made, Fabian said, “Pretty much everything is on the table as far as what we’ll do moving forward.”

Newman had started to move and then shifted behind another car in line on pit row. But the rear of his car stuck out in the middle lane that is supposed to remain clear between cars on either side of that, though NASCAR said afterward that Bowyer had room to get around him.

Daniel Suarez qualified fourth using a strategy different than most. He went out alone on the track for his laps during qualifying.

Johnson, who is 15th in points this season and has a 65-race winless streak, also had the top speeds in practice sessions earlier Friday. It was his first pole since during the season he won the last of his seven Cup championships.

“It’s been a long couple of years, and we still have a ways to go,” Johnson said. “Certainly race day is much more important than Friday, but we’ve been working so hard. … Top of the chart all day long, and a great start for this Ally team. I’m really proud of everybody for keeping the faith and working hard.”

The last time Johnson won the pole at the 1 1/2-mile Texas track was 2012. He won from the pole that day, and has won at Texas five more times since then.

Ejected chief

After the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota failed on two attempts through the inspection line for qualifying, car chief Jason Overstreet was ejected. The team for driver Erick Jones was also penalized with a 15-minute deduction of practice time, which will be enforced Saturday.

Bowman’s backup

Alex Bowman slammed hard into the outside of Turn 2 during the first round of qualifying, heavily damaging the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and stopping the session briefly. There was too much damage, and will have to use a backup car in the race.

Who’s out

With only 39 cars entered into the race, everybody made the field for Sunday’s race.

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