NASCAR photo - Jeff GordonEnlarge Photo
For the 20th straight year, NASCAR four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon has earned a pole position, taking the 71st of his career at Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday's Aaron's 499.
Driving the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet from Rick Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon was one of the final four drivers to get two qualifying laps and knocked AJ Allmendinger from the top spot with his lap of 49.973 seconds at an average speed of 191.623 mph around the 2.66-mile oval, longest on the Sprint Cup tour.
On a hot, humid and sunny Alabama afternoon Gordon remarked, "Sitting on a pole at Talladega doesn't really guarantee anything for the race. Track position is probably least important at this track as any other," he said.
After a rough start to the season, "Right now we will take any kind of positive boost that we possibly can and this is a good one. We're going to take it (the momentum of earning pole) into tomorrow's race and hopefully come out here with as much positiveness as we have got right now."
Allmendinger, driver of Penske Racing's No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T had to watch and wait as everyone tried to knock him from the perch, after turning 50.107/191.11 much earlier in the going.
The Californian never made a qualifying simulation in Friday's practice, "So we weren't really sure what we had. It's really cool to see that we've got some speed; it shows the effort everybody in the Penske organization puts into these race cars. It was a good lap for sure; it shows we have a lot of horsepower and a fast race car for tomorrow," he said.
Third on the grid is Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger's teammate in 2011 when the pair drove for Richard Petty Motorsports, where the Aussie still has the No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion in hand. Ambrose mused that he "missed the pole by two-one hundredths. We just keep getting better and better at these race tracks for the King and for his whole RPM team. We have a chance to win tomorrow; we are going to do whatever we can to stay up front all day and try to lead that last lap." Almirola has a new crew chief this weekend in Mike Ford.
Ambrose' current teammate Aric Almirola took fourth in the No. 43 VeriFone Sail Ford Fusion but "thought we had a good shot at the pole. We qualified fourth so we were really close," Almirola said. Kasey Kahne lines up fifth in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy while point leader Greg Biffle is sixth in the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion,
Biffle's teammate Carl Edwards earned seventh grid spot with his No. 99 Fastenal Fusion, with reigning champ Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevy) eighth, Michael Waltrip making one of his restrictor plate starts in the No. 55 Aaron's Color Your Way Toyota holds ninth and is the top Toyota while Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth is 10th on the 43-car grid, racing the No. 17 Best Buy Ford Fusion.
Other notables deeper in the field include 13th starter Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Dale Earnhardt Jr in 18th with the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dw Chevy, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevy) and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Rheem Chevy) sharing the 10th row. Kyle Busch starts 21st in the No. 18 M&M's Toyota.
The 43rd annual Aaron's 499 has a hungry veteran in Jeff Gordon leading 42 others to the green flags tomorrow afternoon. Will he be the one to bring Rick Hendrick that elusive 200th win?