Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch started their battle early this weekend during qualifying.
Richmond, Va. – Jeff Gordon had what it took when it counted as he not only gained the pole position for the Federated Auto Parts 400 at the Richmond International Raceway, but he set a track record in doing so, blasting around the .75-mile oval at a speed of 130.599 miles per hour.
The pole winner drives the Driver to End Hunger Chevrolet to score his first pole of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season and the 73rd of his illustrious career. Also, he claimed his sixth pole at RIR and set a NASCAR record by earning a pole for the 21st consecutive season, eclipsing a record held by Hall of Fame driver David Pearson.
“That was big for us,” Gordon said. “Regarding the record with Pearson, it is not very often that you can break a record that Pearson set, and I am pretty overwhelmed and blown away.
“I didn’t think (a pole) was going to happen this year. I have not been qualifying well, even though I pride myself in qualifying well. Today went really smooth, and the car was running really well. When we switched over to qualifying trim, we shot to the top of the board and car was driving well. When I saw the lap that Kurt (Busch) had, I was a little bit nervous whether we had enough, but the car stuck good on the first lap and the car did everything I wanted it to do on the second lap. That is huge to be able to do it at such a crucial time and to get that No. 1 pit stall to set us for what we need to do tomorrow.”
Coming close and tying Matt Kenseth’s recent track record was Kurt Busch, who drove the Furniture Row/Beauty Rest Chevrolet to the second fastest time. His speed was 130.334 mph. For Busch, he gained his eighth front-row starting spot of the season and ended up in the second slot for the seventh time.
Said Busch about his rapid run, “It was a great lap for us. We made a lot of changes, and it turned out to be a great lap. I didn’t know if it would stick for the pole, but we ended up on the outside pole. One pole and a bunch of outside poles will get you a dollar bill and a Big Gulp. It is cool that we are on the front row with Gordon. The way it shakes out, it is a front-row starting spot and a good pit-box selection. Once we settle into the race, we just have to focus on our drive-off and not spin our tires. This is cool with the two guys battling for the last (Chase) spot in the front row. It is like bottom of the seventh and we have a one-run lead, and it is off to the final innings.”
Adding excitement to the qualifying results, Gordon and Busch are jockeying for the 10th spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, the outcome of which will be settled on Saturday evening. Neither driver is expected to concede the spot, so the pressure will be on for the next 24 hours.
Chase contender Brad Keselowski ended up third fastest in the Miller Lite Ford with Clint Bowyer fourth fastest in the 5-hour Energy Toyota.
Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin nailed down third-row starting positions with row four sewed up by Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano.
Greg Biffle and Regan Smith rounded out the top-10 qualifiers.
Smith subbed for new father Jimmie Johnson, who was with his wife after she gave birth to new daughter Lydia Noriss in the wee hours of the morning. Johnson will race at Richmond on Saturday night, but he will have to start from the rear of the field.
Chase contender Martin Truex Jr. qualified 11th with Kyle Busch 13th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 14th, Mark Martin 16th in Tony Stewart’s Chevrolet and another Chase contender Kasey Kahne 18th.
Other notables find Ryan Newman 24th and Carl Edwards 26th.
Only Mike Bliss failed to qualify for the event.