TALLADEGA, Ala.—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.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – GEICO 500
1. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 194.793 mph.
2. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 193.685 mph.
3. (21) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 193.611 mph.
4. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 193.599 mph.
5. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 193.427 mph.
6. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 193.419 mph.
7. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 193.412 mph.
8. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 193.357 mph.
9. (18) David Ragan, Toyota, 193.006 mph.
10. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 192.808 mph.
11. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 192.703 mph.
12. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 192.343 mph.
13. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 192.792 mph.
14. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 192.789 mph.
15. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 192.777 mph.
16. (33) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, 192.765 mph.
17. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 192.738 mph.
18. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 192.715 mph.
19. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 192.680 mph.
20. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 192.672 mph.
21. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 192.622 mph.
22. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 192.587 mph.
23. (55) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, 192.181 mph.
24. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 192.050 mph.
25. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 191.835 mph.
26. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 191.727 mph.
27. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 191.627 mph.
28. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 191.616 mph.
29. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 191.581 mph.
30. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 191.497 mph.
31. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 191.252 mph.
32. (32) Bobby Labonte, Ford, 191.176 mph.
33. (62) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 191.016 mph.
34. (98) Josh Wise, Ford, 190.757 mph.
35. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 190.738 mph.
36. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 190.715 mph.
37. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Owner Points
38. (34) Chris Buescher(i), Ford, Owner Points
39. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, Owner Points
40. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Owner Points
41. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, Owner Points
42. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Owner Points
43. (83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, Owner Points
Mark McCarter – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Madde Meyer/Getty Images via NASCAR