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Vickers wins Michigan pole

BROOKLYN, Mich. - Nobody could touch Brian Vickers on Friday in NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying at Michigan International Speedway.

'It was there from the first lap, the first turn,' Vickers said after his lap of 188.536 mph put the Red Bull Racing driver on the pole for Sunday's 3M Performance 400.

'We tried some things during practice that didn't work at all,' he added. 'So we went back to where we were and I think that's one of the best qualifying cars I've ever had. It was a heck of a lap.

'Sometimes you just hit it. You don't know why.'

It was the fifth career pole for Vickers, but the first for his team and his first since November 2006 at Texas, when he was still driving for Hendrick Motorsports.

Last season, the first for both Red Bull and Toyota in Cup, was mostly a struggle for Vickers, who finished 38th in the standings. But the 24-year-old, who raced to fourth here in June - one of three top-fives this season - has made big strides this year and is a solid 17th in the standings.

'I'm very proud of everybody at Red Bull Racing and Toyota,' he said. 'We've come a long way since last year.

Two-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was second at 187.028. But his lap was more than three-tenths of a second slower than Vickers on the 2-mile oval.

'We picked up speed from practice, but I just knew in the car it wasn't the fastest lap,' Johnson said. 'And I think, for that (Red Bull) team and Brian, this has been a track that fits their style. He'll be ever more of a threat come race time.'

'That's a great team,' Vickers said of Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Chevrolet. 'It's the team to beat in our sport for the last several years.'

And the fast lap by Vickers wasn't a fluke. He was also fastest in the 90-minute practice earlier Friday.

'To lay that lap down in practice and back it up in qualifying, that's a really good feeling,' the youngster said. 'Really unbelievable. I wish we could take that and apply it to every week. But it's not that easy.

'But anytime you can see progress, feel progress, patience comes easier.

Elliott Sadler was third at 186.577 in a Dodge, followed by June winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chevrolet at 186.321, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet at 186.032 and the Dodge of rookie Patrick Carpentier at 185.979.

Rounding out the top 10 were David Reutimann at 185.907, rookie Regan Smith at 185.874 and Greg Biffle and Scott Riggs, both at 185.821. Series points leader Kyle Busch, who has a season-high eight Cup victories, will start 11th in Sunday's race.

Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, who earlier in the day confirmed they will be teammates on the new Stewart-Haas Racing team in 2009, qualified 20th and 21st, respectively.

There were only 44 entries trying for the 43 spots on the race grid and Johnny Sauter failed to make the field.