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Sprint Cup
GEICO 400
When: 2 p.m. today
Where: Joliet, Ill.
TV: ESPN
Track: Chicagoland Speedway (oval, 1.5 miles)
Race distance: 400.5 miles, 267 laps
Associated Press
Jimmie Johnson won the pole Saturday for the NASCAR race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., qualifying at 182.865 mph.

Johnson on pole as Chase race begins

– Jimmie Johnson took an immediate step toward another Sprint Cup title – but the five-time champion is well aware it was a small one.

Johnson won the pole Saturday for this weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway, an impressive start for the man whose streak of five Cup titles came to an end last year. The Chase for the Sprint Cup begins with today’s 400-mile event, but Johnson shrugged off any talk of an immediate statement.

“It’s too early in the Chase to be over-the-top excited or down and out if you didn’t qualify like you wanted to,” Johnson said.

Johnson qualified at 182.865 mph, good enough for his second pole of the year and 27th of his career. The other 11 drivers in the Chase had mixed results in qualifying. Matt Kenseth was third, one spot ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Kasey Kahne was sixth – but Earnhardt will have to start from the back because of an engine change.

“I don’t think we are super concerned,” said Steve Letarte, Earnhardt’s crew chief. “We had a great car in practice and qualified really well so we showed we have good speed. Fortunately, this is a racetrack that there are multiple pit strategies and it’s not a really simple straightforward pit strategy to call.”

Denny Hamlin, the top seed in the Chase, was eighth, a spot ahead of Clint Bowyer.

“I just wanted it because I don’t win poles all that often,” Johnson said.

Not everyone in the Chase qualified near the top. Brad Keselowski was 13th, Martin Truex Jr. was 18th and Jeff Gordon was 19th.

“We ran the same time we did yesterday, so it wasn’t a very good lap,” Gordon said.

Greg Biffle was 22nd, defending champion Tony Stewart qualified 29th and Kevin Harvick was all the way back in 35th.

“Really loose. We were all over the place on that lap,” Stewart said. “Sunday is when it matters.”

Aric Almirola, who isn’t part of the Chase, qualified second Saturday.

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