For the second time this season the Hendrick Motorsports contingent led by Jeff Gordon dominated qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway. As he did in May, Gordon was the fastest qualifier Saturday and will lead the field to the green for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup CampingWorld.com 500. Gordon, who led the first of two rounds, put down a lap of 194.255 miles per hour to secure his 81st career pole and his fourth of the season.
“That is just a complete credit to all the details that come from the top down,” Gordon said. “Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) he really does a phenomenal job at every track, but especially these tracks with these cars. Hendrick engines, Hendrick chassis, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, 1, 2, 3 and 5 that is an awesome day for Hendrick Motorsports.”
As they did in May, four of the top five starters are from the Hendrick stable; Kasey Kahne will start second, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fifth. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth was the only spoiler as he grabbed the third spot for Sunday’s 500.
“Everybody wants to qualify well and try to get an early pick on your pit stall if you can and do all those kinds of things,” Kenseth said. “With this kind of racing you make one wrong move or pick a line to stop moving then you could be 30th before you even know it within a lap. Starting position not super, super important here, but yet I’d rather be toward the front than in the back.”
In May, Gordon had the pole and Kahne was second as well. Earnhardt started fourth in May and Johnson fifth. Gordon’s lap Saturday was a few ticks faster than his pole-winning lap last time. Gordon said Saturday that he knew he had a fast car, but didn’t know if it was fast enough for the pole.
“This is a different car than what we had here earlier this year,” Gordon said “I mean everybody felt confident in the car and it was really fast in the drafting sessions, but we weren’t exactly sure when we made a mock qualifying run if we had what it took for the pole. But after that first run I knew the boys did what they do. “
Unlike the race in May there is a lot more at stake for the Hendrick drivers. Two of them, Gordon and Earnhardt , are in the Chase. Both, most notably Earnhardt, are in danger of elimination.
“Some of the guys had a little more speed,” Earnhardt said. “But we feel like our car is going to race really well and just ready to go.”
Earnhardt has a great deal of confidence about Sunday. He won here in May. For Gordon however, the story is a little different. He led 47 of the 188 laps here in May only to see his race end in disaster and with a 31st place finish. Something he cannot afford to repeat if he hopes to move to the next round in the Chase.
“We really feel like we were dominant here in May,” Gordon said. “I made a mistake getting too aggressive to pit road. Hopefully we will learn from our mistakes and we can take advantage of that No. 1 pit stall or selection anyway, as well as, a very fast racecar and try to keep it up front.”
Other Chase contenders will have to work hard on Sunday. Five of the 12 drivers failed to advance to the final round and will start outside the top 12. Kurt and Kyle Busch, along with Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards missed the cut. But perhaps the most disappointed was Martin Truex Jr.. His lap early in the second session was good enough to advance, but he raced along the front of the tri-oval below the yellow out of bounds line and had his time disallowed by NASCAR. Truex will roll off 43rd Sunday.
“I didn’t know you couldn’t do that here in qualifying,” Truex said. “We have done it the last few times. I didn’t get the memo that you couldn’t do that this time around. Just done what we have done here the last few times and didn’t realize there was a rule change.”
Trevor Bayne, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano round out the top 10. Kurt Busch will start 14th, Edwards 15th, Kyle Busch 16th, and Newman 18th. The full lineup can be found here. The biggest drama of the day occurred near the end of the final round when Clint Bowyer, preparing to head out for his laps accidently reversed into the car of Justin Allgaier. The team had to rush to make repairs and Allgaier was the final driver to qualify; he will start 39th Sunday, Bowyer 29th. Michael Annett and Jeb Burton failed to make the field. The NASCAR Sprint Cup CampingWorld.com 500 will get the green flag just after 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.