Gordon bests Talladega qualifying, notches 80th career pole

Mark McCarter, NASCAR Wire Service Sunday, May 03 1434
Change the rules, change the format -- but they can't change history.

Jeff Gordon, who has won more Talladega Superspeedway poles than any active driver, put together a lap of more than one mile per hour faster than the next-quickest to earn the Coors Light Pole for Sunday's GEICO 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (1 p.m. ET on FOX) at the 2.66-mile trioval.

Gordon posted a time of 49.160 seconds (194.793 mph), bettering his time of 49.171 that won him the top spot in the first round of qualifying.

Kasey Kahne, whose No. 5 Chevrolet comes from the same shop No. 524 at Hendrick Motorsports as Gordon's No. 24 car, will sit on the outside of the front row at 193.685.

It was a new qualifying format for Talladega, a mixture between the old two-lap run (necessitated because the time it takes to reach maximum speed) and the "knockout qualifying" implemented last year. Only the fastest 12 advanced from the first round, and there would be two cars on the track simultaneously, as controlled by NASCAR.

Rounding out those 12 "survivors" who reached the second round were, in order of their starting position: Ryan Blaney, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Paul Menard, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears and Sam Hornish Jr. Among the 12 are a collective 17 Talladega Sprint Cup wins, six of those by Gordon, the track's active leader in victories.

It was the 80th career pole for the 43-year-old Gordon, third on the all-time list behind Richard Petty (123) and David Pearson (113). It was his third of the season, having previously sat on the pole at Daytona and Las Vegas.

"When you come to the restrictor plate races you definitely give the team all the credit because of the prep work that goes into these cars," Gordon said.

"There's a lot that goes into it from the team. My part is pretty easy. Release the clutch, get it up to speed, hit my shift points and run a tidy line."

Gordon, in his final full-time NASCAR season, needs a reversal of fortune when it comes to his finishes. He has six consecutive top-10 finishes, but his last victory was last Sept. 28 at Dover, a 16-race winless stretch.

"This whole year, all I've wanted to do is enjoy the moments, take it all in," he said. "But I can't help it. I want to perform better than we have. It's a balance between enjoying the moment, having friends and family there to enjoy this final season, but at the same time you want to win the race."

Brad Keselowski, the winner here last fall, will start 15th, defending race leader Denny Hamlin qualified 17th and points leader Kevin Harvick was 24th. Michael McDowell and Jeb Burton failed to qualify for the 43-car field.