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Mr. Charlotte: Jimmie Johnson wins the All-star pole, and may face a Saturday night showdown with Busch bros Kurt and Kyle


True love: Jimmie Johnson kisses wife Chandra (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Jeff Gordon, who finally got his first Texas victory just a few weeks ago, in a dicey duel with Carl Edwards, should be one of the favorites here in the 600….but is Gordon wild and crazy enough to win the All-star race?
   Edwards himself certainly is.
   Gordon agrees "the basics are there….but this place is quite a bit different than Texas: The radius of the turns are bigger, the speeds are more, the tire wear is less."
    Jimmie Johnson, one of Gordon's teammates, won the pole Friday night for Saturday's 9 p.m. Sprint All-star, with $1 million to the winner of the third leg's 10-lap run.
   Johnson and Kurt Busch will share the front row for the first 50-lap run. That leg will be followed by two 20-lap sprints, and then the 10-lap cash dash.
   Kyle Busch would have been on the front row, but he was docked a five-second penalty for a loose lugnut on the mandatory pit stop during the three-lap qualifying run.
   Strategy may play a role in the 75-mile opening run, Kurt Busch says: "Tires have shown they fall off pretty quick, so you might want to come in and get tires."
   The All-star event will have a 20-car field; the 18 that qualified Friday, plus the top two finishers in Saturday's 20-lap Sprint Showdown preliminary. Showdown qualifying was rained out and the 35-car field set by qualifying draw, with Kirk Shelmerdine getting the pole for 7:30 p.m. race. However Shelmerdine did not get his car through inspection quickly enough, and he will have to start at the rear; that puts David Stremme on the point for the green.
    While so many here are watching the ruckus created by NASCAR's suspension of Jeremy Mayfield, Matt Kenseth says he's got bigger worries than Mayfield's drug debate with NASCAR.
    Whether Saturday night's All-star fling will resolve any of Kenseth's problems remains to be seen. But this hasn't been a great track for him lately; and his last tour victory here at Lowe's Motor Speedway was some 10 years ago.
    And Kenseth and the rest of the Jack Roush teams have hit a lull lately, since Kenseth opened the season with back-to-back wins at Daytona and California. Teammates Greg Biffle, Edwards, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan are all still winless.
   Still, Kenseth's fifth at Texas and 10th at Darlington show he's still got something to work with. And he was third quickest in Friday night runs. But will it be enough for the hot Chevy men and Toyota's Kyle Busch and Dodge's surging Kurt Busch?
   "Our intermediate track program is probably the strongest part," Kenseth says, noting "it certainly has room for improvement.
   "Where we've really struggled is Richmond (13th), Phoenix (27th), Bristol (33rd), and Martinsville (23rd)."
   The guy in the Roush camp to keep an eye on is Greg Biffle, who has been very strong this spring, if not all that lucky.
   "The car just isn't quite as fast as we anticipated," Biffle, second in last year's 600, said. "The track's a little different. And it's a little different tire.
    "But we had a great run at Darlington, and we're hoping to come here and continue that. These two tracks don't look similar, but are a little bit, with surface and speed."
   As tough as it is to pass here, Johnson predicts this for Saturday's final 15 miles: "Those first two rows, that's where the winner will come from."
    And how does Johnson weigh in on the Mayfield affair? "Out of my own curiosity and I'm sure everyone's, everybody want to know what it is," Johnson says, noting he has been drug-tested three times already this season.
   "And I'm sure for privacy issues there are reasons why they aren't disclosing that information.
    "I would hope that the person that is charged or being accused of knows exactly what is going on.
     "I think we all share the same concern. We all want to know what the hell it is.
     "I know he's claimed there were prescription issues and a combination of things. As long as he has a fair chance to prove himself to the testing company….
    "It's not really NASCAR. That's the other part of this that I've had to get in my head. It's not what NASCAR is saying. NASCAR hired the company that's performing the test."
     The banned drug groups that NASCAR's Brian France talked about as typically triggering NASCAR concern are performance-enhancing drugs and recreational drugs.
   "From a performance-enhancing standpoint," Johnson says, "I just -- in my own mind -- have not seen the need to mess with any of that.
    "Yeah, you want to be faster. Yeah, you need to recover. Yeah, there's all those different things that pit crew guys and maybe even some drivers would need.
    "But just from visually looking at people and understanding people and knowing our garage area, I just don't see there being an issue for performance-enhancing drugs.
    "The other side of it, recreational stuff, you never know.
     "That's the part that I would expect more than performance enhancing stuff."
    The third point for drivers here – regular prescription medications and over-the-counter stuff.
    "We all sat in the same meeting, we asked questions," Johnson said.  "And they're, like, 'Look, we can't say one thing (specifically) you can't take because there are different medical conditions, and we're looking for people that are abusing certain things.'
    "The only times I've been concerned -- now that seasonal allergies are kicking off and I'm taking two or three Alegras a day to keep my allergies under control….and I hit the random: Is there going to be something there?
    "But they've assured me they can separate those things. They can separate when it's prescription drug and when it's something else."
   "I have nothing to fear, but there hasn't been a lot of clarity in things," Johnson adds.
    "When it was introduced, we were all nervous that there wasn't really a list of what's legal and what's not.
     "So I took all the steps they advised, and any prescription drugs I'm on I got a doctor's note and release and took that in to the initial test.
     "I have nothing to be fearful of, but you just wish there was some clarity in certain aspects."

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