Johnson takes Homestead pole

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Jimmie Johnson is determined to do everything right this week.

Updated: November 18, 2007 07:50 IST
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Homestead, Florida:

Jimmie Johnson is determined to do everything right this week.

The reigning Cup champion, who holds an 86-point lead over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon heading into the season-ending Ford 400, got off to a great start on Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, winning his fourth pole of the season and the 13th of his career.

"We're doing what we need to do on Friday," Johnson said. "We'll just look forward to tomorrow and try to get the car driving as good tomorrow leading into Sunday's race.

"I think it's going to be important to have a comfortable car," added Johnson, who qualified at 176.788 mph (284.513 kph) on the 1.5-mile (2.4 kilometer) oval.

"I fall into a rut of dealing with a car that's a little bit on the loose side at times, and hanging onto the car at times. It's my off-road background.

"I want to make sure I have it good and comfortable for me so if I start freaking out in the middle of the race, or I've got to go, I can go and not have to worry about it."

The pole virtually assured Johnson of earning the five-point bonus for leading at least one race lap Sunday.

If he does lead a lap, Johnson only needs to finish 19th or better to win the title, regardless of what Gordon, starting 11th, does.

Even without leading a lap, Johnson can wrap up his second championship by finishing 18th or better.

To win the pole, Johnson knocked the 176.569 mph of Ryan Newman, perennially one of NASCAR's top qualifiers, off the top spot.

Kasey Kahne, who had been fast in practice, also came up short, winding up third at 176.350.

Gordon, who was hoping for a much stronger qualifying effort, sounded resigned to his situation.

"This weekend, there's very little pressure on us," the four-time Cup champion said. "We're going to finish no worse than second (in the points) and, unless a miracle happens, we're not going to win the championship.

"Our focus now is on winning this race. The pressure is all on the (Number) 48 (Johnson)," added Gordon, who qualified at 175.171.

Johnson looked confident and totally relaxed after qualifying ended.

"It was a long week, with so many things to do and I can't tell you how much just getting in a race car helped," he said. "I got in the car and everything is right, it feels good. I'm doing my job. Let's just get on with it.

"We're just trying to keep it simple. Do everything the way it's supposed to be done."

Matt Kenseth was fourth at 176.074 heading into his final race with longtime crew chief Robbie Reiser on his pit box.

Reiser will move up to general manager of Roush Fenway Racing after Sunday.

"He's done a lot for my career and we've had a lot of fun racing together," Kenseth said of the only crew chief he has worked with in Cup. "We're still going to work closely together, so he knows he's got my support no matter what he wants to do."

Kurt Busch was fifth at 175.942, followed by Mark Martin and David Ragan, both at 175.850, Kevin Harvick at 175.707, Jeff Burton at 175.661 and Carl Edwards, rounding out the top 10 at 175.370.

Dale Earnhardt Jr, who will make his final start with Dale Earnhardt Inc, Sunday, was 13th.

Former open-wheel stars Patrick Carpentier and Sam Hornish Jr, who both plan to race full-time in Cup in 2008, each qualified for a second consecutive start.

Carpentier was 28th and three-time IndyCar champion Hornish was 29th.

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