News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 31, 2011

Johnson knocked off pole by upstart Ragan at Brickyard

Tom Reck
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — The 18th Brickyard 400 will be run today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

David Ragan will be on the pole for the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup 160-lap race, earning the spot in Saturday’s qualifying sessions with his run in the No. 6 UPS/Hall of Fame/Ned Jarrett Ford.

The 25-year-old was 44th of 48 drivers to make his run in the afternoon and knocked three-time winner Jimmie Johnson off the pole with his hot lap of 182.994 mph. Johnson had been 17th in the qualifying order and temporarily earned the top spot with his lap of 182.801.

Johnson will start third as Kasey Kahne took the second spot with his speed of 182.927. He was next to last in the qualifying order.

“I hit my marks. I wasn’t as aggressive as I wanted to be … I knew if I hit my marks, we would be in the top five. We had a chance to sit on the pole in [Las] Vegas and I wound up being backwards … and I didn’t want that to happen again,” Ragan said.

He earned his second pole in 166 Sprint Cup races, earning his first earlier this year in Texas, and won his first race earlier this season. He will be making his eighth top-10 start of of the year.

His best previous start at Indianapolis had been 16th in 2008. His best finish in four races has been 14th and his worst has been 24th.

“It’s an honor to be first in this race. I told Ned we would be good here. I realized how good it was to run in fresh air at Texas. I ran in the top five all night. We’ve had good race cars this year,” he said.

Winning the pole gives Ragan a chance to improve his bid to make The Chase. He now ranks 13th in the point totals.

Kahne said he and Ragan went out at a good time.

“I wanted a cloud. I might have had a little bit of a cloud, but not as much as some,” he said.

He said his crew freed up the car a little more after practice. “We did the right adjustments,” he noted.

Johnson said track position is a key to winning the Brickyard 400.

“It just makes for such a different day for you,” said the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.

“I think this is the most difficult track because there really is one lane. There isn’t much banking. It really leads to a single-file race. Track position is really, really important.”

Johnson was 22nd in the 2010 race after winning in 2006, 2008 and 2009. He also won the pole in 2008.

Juan Pablo Montoya has run strong in the last two races without winning and finished second in 2007. He will start seventh and four-time race winner Jeff Gordon is in the eighth slot.

“Our Target Chevrolet has been a little off pace. We unloaded far off where we needed to be. We’ve had fast cars here. We have a decent car this year. We’re looking for improvement,” said Montoya, who is working with new crew chief Jim Pohlman.

Gordon said he was happy that his No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet had good speed and that the lap time was good. “Inside the car, I had my hands full,” he said. “We were a little bit too loose. If we can stay within the top 10 [in the race], we have a shot at winning.”

ESPN will carry the action live with the pre-race program starting at noon. The race is slated to begin at 1:20 p.m.