CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson is hoping he's on the verge of turning around a disappointing season.
The six-time Sprint Cup champion won the pole Thursday night for the Coca-Cola 600, turning a lap at 194.911 mph at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the third round of NASCAR's knockout qualifying format.
It was the first pole of the year for Johnson, who has yet to win a race this season.
"It certainly shows that we're going to be strong this weekend," Johnson said. "I don't know that it sends the same message that winning two or three races will send. But I would love to rattle off two or three wins and have people fear the No. 48 as they have in the past. I don't think a pole position does that to the garage area, but you have to start somewhere."
Brad Keselowski qualified second and will start on the front row for the seventh time this season. Kasey Kahne was third, followed by Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer.
Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon's struggles in practice runs carried over to qualifying. He didn't make it out of the first round of qualifying and will start 27th — one spot behind last week's All-Star race winner, Jamie McMurray.
Johnson has won six Sprint Cup races at the Charlotte, twice from the pole.
He said he isn't concerned that he hasn't won a race this season, which would secure a spot in the Chase for the Cup. What has bothered him is the lack of consistency.
"We have been close to some wins and been pathetic at other tracks," Johnson said.
Johnson was asked if he agrees with the notion that some detractors have enjoyed the fact that he hasn't won yet.
"I think there are some people getting satisfaction out of it," Johnson said. "But if I win, I win too much. If I don't win, they say you aren't winning enough. So it doesn't matter what I do, I can't win."
Johnson was a non-factor in the All-Star race last week at the track in his bid for a three-peat. He said his crew changed the setup in his car this past week, borrowing some advice from teammate Kasey Kahne.