Scratch one small item off Jeff Gordon’s swan song bucket list.
With a track-record lap at 194.679 mph, Jeff Gordon won the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one of three active Cup tracks where the four-time champion had not won a Coors Light Pole Award—before Friday afternoon’s time trials.
Covering the 1.5-mile distance in 27.738 seconds, Gordon shaved .201 seconds off the track record Joey Logano set last year. Logano (194.315 mph) was second to Gordon in Friday’s qualifying during a third and final round that saw nine drivers break the track record.
“Oh, boys, this is good!” Gordon said after setting the record. “That was a damn good lap.”
The pole was Gordon’s second of the season and the 79th of his career. The top qualifier for the season-opening Daytona 500, Gordon did not make a qualifying run in last week’s Sprint Cup race at Atlanta because his No. 24 Chevrolet didn’t clear inspection in time.
Friday’s time trials represented a welcome turnaround. After running a conservative 193.653 mph in the second round of knockout qualifying, Gordon knew he had a shot at the pole.
“Well, I didn’t come off the throttle much, if any—I know I had to blip it just the tiniest, tiniest bit,” Gordon said of his pole-winning lap. “The lap before, in the second session, I was a little conservative and the car just stuck so good, I thought when I heard some of the lap times that were up there (in the third round), I knew (I had to) be fully committed and just go for it.
“So I drove it down into (Turn) 1. I may have come off of it just a tiny bit, but it wasn’t much at all. And it stuck so good, I was like, ‘Okay, do I run wide open through (Turns) 3 and 4?’ I don’t know. It was real close. There was a lot of wide-open throttle there. It was fun. What a turnaround from last week. I’m just so proud of this team and keeping their heads up. Last week was a tough one, and this is a great, great way to start out weekend here in Las Vegas…
“I can’t believe I won my first pole in Las Vegas in my final race here.”
Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Kasey Kahne (194.287 mph) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (194.091 mph), qualified third and fourth, respectively. Kyle Larson (193.959 mph) grabbed the fifth spot on the grid.
Reigning series champion Kevin Harvick will start 18th, having failed to make the final 12 at a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway for the first time since last year’s Las Vegas race.
NASCAR officials pulled the No. 2 Ford of last year’s Las Vegas race winner, Brad Keselowski, after noticing the team had flared out both rear fenders on the car. Before the start of the season, NASCAR informed teams that manipulating the car bodies would not be permitted.
Accordingly, Keselowski’s car had to clear inspection an additional time before being allowed to qualify. Nevertheless, Keselowski made the final 12 and earned the 11th starting spot for Sunday’s race.
Note: The only two remaining tracks where Gordon has not won a pole are Kentucky and Kansas. The only active track where he has not won a Sprint Cup race is Kentucky.