Hendrick grabs top three starting spots at Richmond

Jimmie Johnson had an easy answer about why he beat the field by almost one mile per hour in Friday's qualifying session at Richmond International Raceway. "All skill thank you very much," Johnson quipped to the media after grabbing the pole for...

Jimmie Johnson had an easy answer about why he beat the field by almost one mile per hour in Friday's qualifying session at Richmond International Raceway.

"All skill thank you very much," Johnson quipped to the media after grabbing the pole for Saturday's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 with a fast lap speed of 126.298 miles per hour.

Johnson topped teammate and points leader Jeff Gordon by two tenths of a second to claim his first pole of the season. Kyle Busch helped Hendrick Motorsports sweep the top three qualifying spots by putting down a fast lap of 125.331 miles per hour.

"I figured out how to drive this track when we were here this spring," said Johnson, who won at Richmond in May after starting on the second row. "We've expanded on that and felt like today we'd be in the top five. We felt like we had a good car and I just got really aggressive in there. I hit my marks and did a good job."

Johnson solicited some help from Gordon and used his line for his second qualifying lap.

"I knew I got a good (first) lap in," said Johnson, who won from the front row last week in California. "The first lap I did it my way and the second lap I did it like Jeff does, but I went slower. We just did everything right."

Gordon is starting on the front row for the third time in the past five races.

"Today was a good day for us," said Gordon, who paced the field in practice earlier in the day. "We really worked most of the time on our race setup. I was a little surprised that we went to the top of the board in practice because we only made one qualifying run."

He has a 317 point lead on Johnson in the standings, but will start the Chase for the Championship behind his teammate unless he can pull off a win on Saturday. After a mid-season slide, Johnson has regained his early season momentum with four top-five finishes in the past six races.

"He's been putting the pressure on me for the past four or five years," said Gordon, who would lose the points lead because Johnson has five wins to his four and would pick up additional bonus points for the victory. If Gordon wins on Saturday, he would start the final 10-race playoff in first place based on having more second place finishes.

"We lost 10 points last week to Jimmie, we certainly don't want to give up another 10," said Gordon, a four-time series champion that is looking for his first title under the new format. "We are going to race hard and try to get ourselves in position to maybe get us 10 more points or come out of here with a strong, solid finish to step up and get ready for the Chase."

Ryan Newman and Virginia native Denny Hamlin also qualified in the top five.

"We didn't have anything for the 48 (Johnson) but I think we had something for the 12 (Newman)," said Hamlin, who finished second in his Richmond debut last season. "I was all up out of the groove. Still, it's a great run. It's better than what we were in practice but our car really was a lot better in race trim than what it was in qualifying."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who needs a minor miracle to claim the final spot in the Chase for the Championship, qualified 21st. He is mathematically within reach of Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, but they will start 13th and 14th respectively on Saturday and will clinch spots in the Chase if they finish in the top 35.

"Everybody knows the deal," said Earnhardt, who won at Richmond as a rookie in 2000 and again in 2004 and 2006. "We'll just have to go run hard and leave it to chance and see what happens to the rest of them guys. We just have to run hard and win."

Long-time team owner Robert Yates announced today that he is retiring in December and will hand the reigns of his two-car team over to his son Doug. Full story on the changes at RYR with the outgoing leadership and the new leader's plans will be posted at Motorsport.com after a scheduled press conference Saturday late afternoon.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Robert Yates , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch