By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Numerologists doubtless will have a field day with the front row for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET).
Touring the 2.66-mile race track in 49.704 seconds (192.661 mph) during Saturday’s time trials, Chase Elliott put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole, making the 20-year-old rookie driver two-for-two at restrictor-plate superspeedways.
In his first qualifying run as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500.
The pole was the sixth at Talladega for the No. 24, the first five having been recorded by Jeff Gordon, who retired after the 2015 season and turned the car over to Elliott.
And the pole run came roughly 30 years after Elliott’s father, Bill Elliott, earned the top starting spot for the spring Talladega race with a lap at 212. 229 mph, before restrictor plates were introduced at the superspeedways.
Coincidentally, Bill Elliott also won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 1986.
“This is definitely a special place,” Chase Elliott said after his pole-winning run. “It’s cool to get it done today. This is a team effort, and those guys and everybody at the No. 5 and No. 24 shop, in particular, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick engine department and obviously (sponsor) NAPA Auto parts.
“But, man, this is cool. Those guys do such a good job. And as I said in Daytona, this had nothing to do with me. This is the car that we had. This is the same car we had in Daytona. They brought another fast one here.”
The car Elliott beat for the pole, the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon (192.424 mph), also has a noteworthy history at Talladega. Driving the No. 3 for owner Richard Childress, Dillon’s grandfather, the late Dale Earnhardt collected nine of his 10 Talladega victories and all three of his Talladega poles.
“There’s a lot of history here with Dale and RCR,” Dillon said. “A lot of good stuff happened with RCR here, so hopefully we can continue that streak of good runs for RCR here. We’ve got a car capable of doing that, obviously, with the qualifying effort, and I’d love for it to be my first Cup win.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has never won a pole at NASCAR’s biggest oval track but has six race wins on his resume here, qualified third at 192.293 mph. Matt Kenseth (192.181 mph) claimed the fourth position on the grid, followed by Jimmie Johnson (192.116 mph) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (192.089 mph).
The only other driver to top 192 mph was seventh-place starter Brad Keselowski (192.008 mph), a three-time Talladega winner.
Ty Dillon qualified the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart and earned the 14th starting spot, but Stewart will start Sunday’s race and will have to drop to the rear for the green flag because of the driver change. The plan is for Stewart, who returned to action last Sunday at Richmond after injuring his back during the offseason, to turn the car over to Dillon during the first caution of the race.
Note: Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – GEICO 500
1. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 192.661 mph.
2. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 192.424 mph.
3. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 192.293 mph.
4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 192.181 mph.
5. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 192.116 mph.
6. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 192.089 mph.
7. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 192.008 mph.
8. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 191.954 mph.
9. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 191.819 mph.
10. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 191.812 mph.
11. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 191.789 mph.
12. (78) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 191.581 mph.
13. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 191.566 mph.
14. (14) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 191.509 mph.
15. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 191.298 mph.
16. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 191.191 mph.
17. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 191.164 mph.
18. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 191.039 mph.
19. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 190.921 mph.
20. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 190.772 mph.
21. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 190.730 mph.
22. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 190.382 mph.
23. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 190.260 mph.
24. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 190.166 mph.
25. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 190.109 mph.
26. (32) Bobby Labonte, Ford, 189.966 mph.
27. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 189.925 mph.
28. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 189.921 mph.
29. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 189.800 mph.
30. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 189.729 mph.
31. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 189.519 mph.
32. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 189.470 mph.
33. (55) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, 189.313 mph.
34. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 189.025 mph.
35. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 189.010 mph.
36. (98) Cole Whitt, Toyota, 188.961 mph.
37. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 188.954 mph.
38. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 188.478 mph.
39. (35) David Gilliland, Ford, 188.467 mph.
40. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 187.636 mph.
Image: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images