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Jimmie Johnson finally gets some good luck...and the top starting spot in Las Vegas


Jimmie Johnson is finally smiling again (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Jimmie Johnson may finally be back on track.
   And considering what he and some of these guys were doing off-track this week, their car owners are probably glad.
   Johnson, though third fastest behind the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, in Friday qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, will start from the pole Sunday afternoon (4:30 p.m. EST, 1:30 p.m. PST), because Kyle Busch blew an engine in practice and had to change motors. That puts Kyle Busch at the rear of the field for the start, and the inside row moves up, putting Johnson on the inside next to Kurt Busch, who has been on the rebound this season after a miserable 2008.
    Tires? This place has been a problem.
   "It looks like the more you run on these tires, the faster they go," Johnson said. "Goodyear did a good job. After we get some long runs, we'll know how the durability is.
   "I hope the tires fall off during the race (in speed), so we don't have to worry about two-tire pit stops."
   "The inside line is usually the preferred groove, but here the high line is smoother, so we'll have to see if that gives me an edge at the start Sunday," Kurt Busch said.
   The first turn bumps were giving drivers fits.
    "I like the bumps, even though that was the part of the track where I gave up speed to Kyle," Johnson said. "The bumps give us something to have our engineers work on."
   The track was repaved just three years and Goodyear has struggled to find a durable tire that is also comfortable for these drivers. The last two years drivers have not been pleased with the choice of tires offered.
   However this time around drivers are praising Goodyear.
   The on-track action followed a play-day for many of these drivers, like Johnson and the Busch brothers and Casey Mears and Robby Gordon, who all took buggies out into the dunes for some high-speed wildness.
   "Kyle proved once again he is probably the craziest guy out here," Johnson said with a laugh. "He was doing stuff I wouldn't even do with a quad.
   "It's amazing what they have for dune buggies these days. Some of them have 1200 horsepower, and you can do wheelies at 100 mph uphill."
  Meanwhile over in the Jack Roush Ford camp, things aren't looking that good. Matt Kenseth won Daytona and California but he was only 45th quickest Friday, needing a provisional to make the field. Teammate Carl Edwards, who won here last year, was the fastest Ford driver, 16th: "I guess that's good. It's not where we wanted to be; I thought we could be faster. But there is more in the car...and it's a long-enough race."

Maybe crew chief Pat Tryson, after such a trying 2008, now has Kurt Busch and Company in gear again (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)







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