With the NASCAR Sprint Cup season ready to conclude, Dale Earnhardt Jr. came up big at Richmond International Raceway Friday night, winning the pole for tomorrow’s Federated Auto Parts 400.
Earnhardt ran 127.023 miles per hour in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, good enough to claim top spot. It was Earnhardt’s 11th career pole in 461 career NASCAR Sprint Cup starts.
Jeff Gordon, who comes into the race as the first man outside the Chase, wheeled his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to a lap of 126.981 mph, good enough for the outside of the front row.
Gordon enters Saturday night’s fray 12 points behind Kyle Busch in the race for the final wild card Chase spot. He drew first blood, buy significantly out-qualifying Busch, who will start 15th.
Regan Smith had an excellent run in the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, qualifying third at 126.910 mph. He was followed by Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota at 126.808 mph. Then came Jimmie Johnson, who made it three Hendrick Chevys in the top five and Mark Martin in a second MWR Toyota.
Denny Hamlin was seventh, followed by Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski.
The top 10 drivers in points are all locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, although where Tony Stewart finishes on Saturday will determine whether he makes the Chase as a top-10 driver or a wild card.
Kasey Kahne, who qualified 21st, has the inside track for the first wild card, with Busch leading Gordon by 12 points in the race for the second wild card.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.