Sparta, KY – Neither mother nature nor Kyle Busch could stop Jimmie Johnson from winning the pole for Saturday's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
Johnson benefited from cooler track temperatures during his qualifying run to post a lap at 181.818 mph. The five-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion claimed his 26th career pole but his first since September 2010 at Dover.
Air temperatures reached 100 degrees and the track surface hit 143 degrees at the start of Friday's qualifying, but powerful winds from a nearby thunderstorm midway through the session changed things considerably. NASCAR briefly halted qualifying when strong gusts blew debris on the 1.5-mile racetrack and knocked over tent areas in the infield.
"I was in my motorhome watching qualifying on television, and the bus started shaking real bad," Johnson said. "I thought there for a minute that somebody backed into our motorhome and hit it, so I opened the door to look out and when I opened the door, the wind almost took the door off the hinges, and I was like, okay, I don't know what is going on and there was a lot of stuff blowing around at that point."
With dark clouds in the area, temperatures on the track surface dropped nearly 40 degrees from the start of qualifying. Johnson was the 43rd driver to make his attempt in the 45-car qualifying field.
"So happy to get the pole," he said. "We have been second quite a bit, and we have been off quite a bit the past few times over the last year-and-a-half, so it's nice to win the pole and get that great starting spot and pit road pick."
Busch, who was last in the order since he had the fastest practice speed, posted a lap at 181.421 mph, which was 0.065 seconds behind Johnson.
"Certainly hoped for a little bit more there, but unfortunately, didn't achieve what we needed to," Busch said. "We'll go into tomorrow night's race with good pit selection and starting up front, which is good for us."
Busch won last year's inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky.
Denny Hamlin qualified third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman.
Clint Bowyer, who won last Sunday's road-course race at Sonoma, CA, took the sixth spot, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top-10.
Matt Kenseth, the current points leader, will start 20th. Kenseth holds an 11- point advantage over second-place and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle, who will roll off 11th.
J.J. Yeley and Mike Skinner failed to qualify for the 400-mile race at Kentucky, which is scheduled to start just after 7:30 p.m. (ET).