Looks like Jeff Gordon has put Chicagoland firmly in the rearview mirror.
Less than a week after a 35th-place finish appeared to abandon any momentum Gordon established at the end of the regular season, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has officially inserted himself back into the Chase for the championship mix.
The penultimate car in Friday’s qualifying session, Gordon piloted his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet around the 1.058-mile oval in 28.232 seconds (134.911 mph), edging Kyle Busch, the pole-sitter in July’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“This season we have had a lot of problems, but our cars were really fast,” said Gordon, who will be on the pole for Sunday’s SYLVANIA 300, the second race in the Chase. “It gave us the confidence to know you can rebound – you can win at the next track.”
It’s Gordon’s sixth career pole at “The Magic Mile,” a track he owns three career victories, one of which came from the pole back in 1998, which, coincidently, was the last time he drove into Victory Lane at NHMS.
Gordon ranks third on the all-time Sprint Cup Series pole list with 72 in 681 career starts.
Brian Vickers and Carl Edwards round out the top-five, while July winner Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Dave Blaney round out the top-10.
Points leader Brad Keselowski will start 15th. Other Chasers not among the top-10 qualifiers include Clint Bowyer (12th), Greg Biffle (13th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (14th), Kevin Harvick (16th), Jimmie Johnson (20th), Matt Kenseth (25th) and Denny Hamlin, who will start 32nd despite being fastest in practice.
Busch will start on the outside of Row 1 on Sunday. This year’s Chase marks only the third time in Rowdy’s career that he’s not a participant in NASCAR’s premier division playoff.
“There’s definitely no drama once you’re no longer in the Chase,” said Busch. “We were happy with our run today, but the main difference is when you get out of your car you’re not surrounded by all the cameras.”
Stewart propelled his victory at New Hampshire last September to a championship, and while he’s avid that it doesn’t necessarily translate to what happens this season, a good starting position at “The Magic Mile” certainly doesn’t hurt.
“It was a perfect way to start the weekend for sure,” said Stewart. “The hard thing is it is hard to pass, but when you get 15-20 laps on the tires you can get where you need to go. We won't have to be the best car get up front.”
Mike Olsen (North Haverhill, N.H.), who is fulfilling a childhood dream by racing in NASCAR’s top series, qualified 42nd. Olsen is teaming up with lifelong friend Frank Stoddard. The two are the first-ever New Hampshire-born driver-owner/crew chief combination to start a Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The No. 32 Ford is locally sponsored by North Country Ford of Lancaster, N.H. The 44-year-old Olsen is a two-time champion in the K&N Pro Series East.
“I’m very honored to have this opportunity,” said Olsen during a pre-race event held earlier this week. “My goal is to finish all 300 laps and as long as I do that I’ll be happy, no matter where I finish.”
Gordon would also like to finish all 300 laps, only his goal is a bit loftier.
“You can’t make up what we lost last week in one race,” said Gordon. “This is something we didn't expect. We expected to be strong in the race, but this was a big one and certainly good timing.”
A limited number of seats still remain for Sunday SYLVANIA 300. To purchase tickets please call the NHMS ticket hotline at (603) 783-4931 or by visiting www.nhms.com.