Gordon wins pole at Richmond, Kurt Busch second
RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon claimed pole position at Richmond International Raceway on Friday, putting himself in the best possible position to challenge for a spot in the Chase for the Championship.
His lap pushed Kurt Busch to the outside of the front row, meaning the tension win be palpable once the green flag drops Saturday for the 400-lap race around the 1.2-kilometer (0.75-mile), D-shaped oval.
Busch is 10th in points, and the top 10 after Saturday’s race earn automatic berths in the 10-race playoffs to finish the season. Gordon is 11th, six points behind, and needs to pass Busch or one of the other drivers now in the top 10 to assure himself a berth in the Chase for the Championship.
In all, 10 drivers are fighting for the last five spots.
“There’s no doubt we all recognize what’s on the line here,” Gordon said.
The pole extended to 21 Gordon’s NASCAR-record string of consecutive seasons with a pole position, breaking a tie with David Pearson.
“I didn’t think it was going to come this year. I’ll be honest,” Gordon said of the top starting spot. “Qualifying has not been very good for me and for our team this year. Very proud of this one. Boy, it comes at a great time. ... We know how important that number one pit stall is and starting up front.”
Busch, the 2004 series champion, was only 19th-fastest in practice but benefited from some cloud cover just as he was wheeling onto track for qualifying, aiding his car’s performance.
“We just threw a couple of things at it, and it stuck,” Busch said. “That lap came out of nowhere. Awesome lap.”
Defending series champion Brad Keselowski, who is 15th in points and still has a remote chance of racing his way into the Chase, will start third, followed by Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth.
Bowyer and Kenseth are among the drivers already locked into the Chase, meaning all eyes will be on the front once the race starts, with Gordon and Busch no doubt battling to lead the first lap, or any lap, top gain a bonus point that could prove critical as the race winds down under the lights.
“It depends on what everybody’s attitude and goals are,” Gordon said of the tone that could be set right away. “This is a long race. You’ve got to be smart. We found that out last year.”
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