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Earnhardt on RIR pole; Gordon to start second

September 07, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com



Earnhardt on RIR pole; Gordon to start second

RICHMOND, Va. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. did exactly what was necessary to win the pole for Saturday's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway -- and teammate Jeff Gordon did more than enough to make Kyle Busch very nervous.

The 44th of 45 drivers to make a qualifying attempt in Friday's time trials, Earnhardt toured the three-quarters-mile speedway in 21.526 seconds (127.023 mph) to claim his first Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Richmond and the 11th of his career.

Richmond

Race Lineup
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. J. Gordon 126.981 21.263
3.R. Smith 126.910 21.275
4. C. Bowyer 126.808 21.292
5.J. Johnson 126.790 21.295

* Out Front with Miss Coors Light: Rachel and Dale Jr.

But it was Gordon who put himself in position for a last-ditch attempt to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a second-place run at 126.981 mph. Gordon can dislodge Busch from the second provisional wild-card position by winning the race (if Tony Stewart remains in the top 10 in the standings) or by beating Busch by more than 12 points, if no wild-card contender with one victory wins on Saturday night.

Busch posted the 15th-fastest time on Friday and will start the race 13 positions -- the equivalent of 13 points -- behind Gordon, setting up a dramatic shootout for the final wild-card spot.

"I think [Friday] was a big mission accomplished for us," Gordon said. "We were very solid in practice all day. I know exactly where I left a little bit out there in [Turns] 1 and 2. I got everything out of it in 3 and 4. But in 1 and 2, I knew I got down to the yellow line too early and just couldn't get back to the gas as hard as I needed to.

"When you do that, you know that there's somebody out there that has a shot of getting you. Second is still a fantastic effort. We had a great practice [Friday], and our car was solid, so [I'm] pretty excited about this race [Saturday]."

Earnhardt, who already has qualified for the Chase, saw the efforts of his No. 88 team to improve the qualifying performance pay off.

"We've been working the last two years to improve ... and this year we made some gains," Earnhardt said. "It feels good to get a pole position and know that we're doing something right there.

"It gives us a good starting spot for [Saturday]. We feel pretty confident about the car after practice [Friday], and starting up front is an advantage. I'm happy that we're performing well and look forward to the race."

Regan Smith (126.910 mph) qualified third, followed by Clint Bowyer (126.808 mph) and Jimmie Johnson (126.790 mph). Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski will start from positions 6 through 10, respectively.

In addition to Logano, drivers who could grab a wild-card spot with a win will take the green flag as follows: Ryan Newman 14th and Marcos Ambrose 22nd. Two other drivers who are winless this season but still have a remote chance to make the Chase are Carl Edwards (16th) and Paul Menard (27th).

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his 11th career pole in his 461st race.
• It is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s first Richmond pole.
• This is the first pole of 2012 for Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose last pole was in the 2011 Daytona 500.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole with a speed of 127.023 mph, and was the last of eight to hold the position.
• Hendrick Motorsports notched its fifth pole of 2012, tied with Michael Waltrip Racing for most.
• All four HMS drivers have now won a pole in 2012.
• Jeff Gordon (second) has his 11th front-row start at Richmond, third front-row start of 2012.
• Regan Smith (third) has second top-three start at Richmond, ties his best start of 2012 (Phoenix).
• Clint Bowyer (fourth) grabbed fourth top-five start in the past five Richmond races.
• Jimmie Johnson (fifth) got seventh top-10 start in the past eight races of the season.
• Kyle Busch, who is trying to hang on to the last Chase wild-card spot, qualified 15th.
• J.J. Yeley and Mark Green were the two drivers that failed to qualify.

* Happy Hour: Madness descends upon RIR | Busch vs. Gordon | Clinch scenarios