TALLADEGA, Ala. – In a knockout qualifying session dominated by Hendrick Motorsports on Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway, the outgoing king of restrictor-plate time trials—Jeff Gordon—won the pole position for Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500, the final race in the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Gordon toured the 2.66-mile oval in 49.234 seconds (194.500 mph) to earn his fourth Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his fifth at Talladega and the 81st of his career. Gordon has claimed the top starting spot for all three 2015 restrictor-plate races for which the pole was contested—the Daytona 500 and both Talladega events.
Rain forced cancellation of time trials for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July.
Gordon beat out Hendrick teammate and non-Chaser Kasey Kahne (193.638 mph) for the top spot on the grid for the race that will determine which eight drivers advance to the Chase’s Eliminator Round.
Jimmie Johnson, who was knocked out of the Chase in the first round, qualified third at 193.584 mph, immediately ahead of two drivers who likely must win on Sunday to keep their title hopes alive—Mat Kenseth (193.580 mph, 12th in the Chase standings) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (193.162 mph, 11th in the standings).
Kenseth was the only non-Hendrick driver to crack the top five.
“These guys work extremely hard,” Gordon said of his team’s effort. “I know everybody does for these restrictor-plate tracks. To be able to get the results like that, and they have been doing it all year long on these tracks. …
“That is just a complete credit to all the details that come from the top down. (Crew chief) Alan (Gustafson), 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.”
Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, qualified sixth, followed by reigning series champion Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart. Of that group, Harvick, Hamlin and Keselowski are vying for spots in the next round of the Chase. Logano has already locked up his spot in the next round.
Even before the final round started, the session featured its share of bizarre circumstances. The first-round time of Chase driver Martin Truex Jr. was disallowed after Truex drove below the yellow line in the tri-oval on his qualifying lap.
NASCAR had stipulated to the Sprint Cup teams before time trials that driving below the yellow line was no longer allowed. Accordingly, Truex will start from the rear of the field in Sunday’s race.
“Well the last couple of times we’ve been here, we’ve run on the apron through the tri-oval,” Truex said. “Apparently there was a memo sent out, and I never got it. I don’t really know what to say.”
During the first session, Clint Bowyer mistakenly threw his No. 15 Toyota into reverse and backed into the No. 51 Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier, the driver Bowyer will replace next year during his one-year stint at HScott Motorsports, Bowyer’s short-term home before he moves to Stewart-Haas Racing fulltime in 2017.
With the nose of his Chevy caved in, Allgaier qualified 39th, but the team plans to repair and use the primary car for Sunday.
All four Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets were flagged during pre-qualifying inspections for radiator inlet duct panels that didn’t conform to NASCAR specifications. The teams spent more than two hours correcting the issue, but Harvick and Stewart still managed to make the top 12, earning the seventh and 12th starting spots, respectively.
The remaining Chase drivers qualified as follows: Kurt Busch, 14th; Carl Edwards, 15th; Kyle Busch, 16th; and Ryan Newman, 18th.
Jeb Burton and Michael Annett failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega
1. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 194.500 mph.
2. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 193.638 mph.
3. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 193.584 mph.
4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 193.580 mph.
5. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 193.162 mph.
6. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 192.777 mph.
7. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 192.599 mph.
8. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 192.533 mph.
9. (21) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 192.509 mph.
10. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 192.498 mph.
11. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 192.212 mph.
12. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 192.116 mph.
13. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 192.486 mph.
14. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 192.320 mph.
15. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 192.320 mph.
16. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 192.197 mph.
17. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 191.981 mph.
18. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 191.938 mph.
19. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 191.846 mph.
20. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 191.812 mph.
21. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 191.750 mph.
22. (55) David Ragan, Toyota, 191.739 mph.
23. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 191.727 mph.
24. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 191.593 mph.
25. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 191.512 mph.
26. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 191.486 mph.
27. (95) Michael McDowell, Ford, 191.226 mph.
28. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 191.157 mph.
29. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 191.103 mph.
30. (26) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 190.962 mph.
31. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 190.837 mph.
32. (62) Timmy Hill(i), Ford, 190.582 mph.
33. (98) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, 190.234 mph.
34. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, 190.158 mph.
35. (32) Bobby Labonte, Ford, 189.815 mph.
36. (83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, 189.519 mph.
37. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Owner Points
38. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, Owner Points
39. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, Owner Points
40. (34) Josh Wise, Ford, Owner Points
41. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
42. (33) Travis Kvapil(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
43. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, Owner Points
2 drivers failed to qualify.
44. (23) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 188.634 mph.
45. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 188.400 mph.
Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images