Kasey Kahne captured the pole for Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, putting him in the top starting spot at the always- treacherous 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.
Kahne, one of several drivers on the fringe of the championship hunt, ran a qualifying lap of 191.455 mph in his No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet to take the pole for Sunday’s race. The pole was the third of the season for Kahne and the 25th of his career.
“We practiced a lot in the draft yesterday … it just felt comfortable,” said Kahne. “The car was really good.”
Qualifying on the outside of Row 1 was Ryan Newman, who ran 191.145 mph in the first of the Stewart-Haas Racing Chevys. “It is what it is,” said Newman. “The guys did a good job with the car. … We’ll see how it shakes out in the race vs. qualifying.”
The first of the Toyota drivers was the two-time defending race winner Clint Bowyer, third at 191.119 mph in the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing entry. He will be flanked by Newman’s teammate and boss, Tony Stewart, the three-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. Stewart’s lap was 190.993 mph.
“I’m like blown-away shocked that we’re in the top three,” said Bowyer. “… We’re in the front. I’m going to try and stay there.”
Greg Biffle was fifth in the first of the Roush Fenway Racing Fords, followed by Jeff Gordon. Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne, Martin Truex Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr. completed the top 10.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 12th, while points leader Brad Keselowski was 22nd. Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 17th.
“We’re all just nervous coming in here,” said Johnson, who has not finished any of the three previous restrictor-plate races this season. “We don’t really know what to expect. But the one thing is that it’s the same for everything. Everybody is coming in here with a lot to lose if things go the wrong way, or a lot to gain if things turn out. So it’s hard to give a clear championship picture at this point.”
Coming into the race, the fourth of 10 in the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup, Keselowski leads Johnson by 5 points and Hamlin by 16. Bowyer is fourth in points, 25 back of the lead.
Keselowski said he wasn’t worried about starting in the middle of the pack.
“I think we’ve proven that the only lap that matters is the last one,” said Keselowski, who won here in the spring and in April 2009. “We have a good Miller Lite Dodge Charger. You have to stay out of trouble, be solid on pit road and put yourself in a position to make a run at the end. We’ll see how it plays out.”
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.