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By Team Ford Racing Correspondent

Billy Johnson took his Ford Mustang Boss 302R for a qualifying spin Thursday as the field was being set for Friday's 2.5-hour Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race (1:20 p.m., live coverage on IMSA.com) and found himself scoring his first pole position in 2:22.504 seconds (85.892 mph) at the 3.4-mile, 20-turn Circuit of the Americas.

"This is my first-pole, period, since my karting days!" Johnson said emphatically through a wide grin.

Having 15 wins and 34 podiums alone in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge -- most of them coming with qualifying driver Jack Roush Jr. -- is no mean feat. But Johnson had never qualified on a CTSC pole. Until Thursday.

"People have seen me as a closer, and that's where they put me," Johnson said.

That is, until Multimatic Motorsports' Sean Mason and Larry Holt got together and ordered changes in the team's two-car driver lineup.

"We just figured that the guys could use a little change of atmosphere," Mason said shortly after being queried on the subject about midway through this season.

So, off went Johnson to the No. 158 Ford Mustang Boss 302R to pair with Ian James, the latter moving from "forever" starting races to closing, whereas James' former co-drover, closer Scotty Maxwell, went to the No. 15 Ford Mustang Boss 302R, where the latter is teamed with closing driver Jade Buford, who once did little more than open (and qualify). Maxwell on Thursday laid down a 2:23.000 lap at 85.594 mph.

Typical for new teams when key personnel arrive with helmet in hand, it took a little while before things started to gel. Each of the drivers could fight and prevail with the best of the field but a couple of things lacked, mostly on how the "other guys" -- the paddock and pit crews -- did their thing to make the driver better at doing his thing.

"You know, I've been with Larry and Sean for a long, long time," Maxwell said, "And I know those guys have been between rocks and hard places before, and they've come out of it. I knew they'd do it this time, too. The key was having patience, and it paid off today. Now, if we can only get it to pay off (Friday). That's my hope."

Maxwell, who with Mutimatic, David Embringham and David Brabham won the Daytona Prototype's inaugural Rolex 24 At Daytona, asked what his and Johnson's race strategy might be.

He then peered into the distance with a hard stare and said, "You know, I don't know. But I do think it's time we win."

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