Gordon Goes Out First, Grabs Pole at Talladega
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.