Gor­don Goes Out First, Grabs Pole at Tal­ladega

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports -

TAL­LADEGA, Ala., April 28 — Jeff Gor­don keeps sur­pris­ing him­self in qual­i­fy­ing.

Gor­don, the first driver to make a qual­i­fy­ing at­tempt Satur­day for the Aaron’s 499 at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way, posted a lap of 192.069 mph and then watched 51 other driv­ers fail to knock him off the pole.

David Gilliland, last fall’s pole win­ner here, did man­age to ex­actly match Gor­don’s qual­i­fy­ing speed, but the four-time NASCAR cham­pion was awarded his third pole in nine tries this year and 60th of his ca­reer by virtue of be­ing ahead of the sec­ond-year driver in the points.

“I’m shocked,” Gor­don said. “I re­ally didn’t ex­pect to stay on top af­ter go­ing out first. But I want to be up front ev­ery time we’re on the race­track. And es­pe­cially here.”

With NASCAR re­quir­ing horse­power-sap­ping car­bu­re­tor re­stric­tor plates at Tal­ladega, the evenly matched cars usu­ally race in huge two- and three­wide freight trains. The slight­est mis­take can lead to the “The Big One” — a huge mul­ticar crash — and usu­ally does.

This race may be even more dan­ger­ous than usual be­cause of the track, which was repaved be­fore the race here last fall and is still smooth and full of grip.

There is al­ways a pre­mium on be­ing out front as much as pos­si­ble, but maybe even more on Sun­day.

“Yeah, you can move from the back to the front [here], but you’ve still got to avoid that big wreck,” Gor­don said. “And, with what I saw in prac­tice yes­ter­day, the bump-draft­ing is go­ing to be pretty se­vere be­cause this track has so much grip and it’s so com­fort­able and so smooth that it only al­lows you to push the car and push ev­ery­thing that much harder and be that much more ag­gres­sive.

“So I want to be as far for­ward as I pos­si­bly can from the start to the end.”

Denny Ham­lin, third at 191.551, is a lit­tle con­cerned about what will hap­pen on Sun­day.

“That prac­tice yes­ter­day was prob­a­bly the wildest I’ve ever seen in any su­per­speed­way prac­tice and it’s only go­ing to get worse to­mor­row,” Ham­lin said.

Ster­ling Marlin, off to a slow start in 2007, qual­i­fied fourth, fol­lowed by Gilliland’s team­mate Ricky Rudd, Kenny Wal­lace, Casey Mears, 2006 Nex­tel Cup cham­pion Jim­mie John­son, Scott Riggs and rookie David Ra­gan.

Two-time Cup cham­pion Tony Ste­wart will start 32nd, for­mer se­ries cham­pion Bobby Labonte 35th, five­time Tal­ladega cham­pion Dale Earn­hardt Jr. 36th, the three Richard Chil­dress Rac­ing en­tries — Clint Bowyer, Kevin Har­vick and Jeff Bur­ton — 40th through 42nd and for­mer se­ries cham­pion Dale Jar­rett 43rd.

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