Brian Vickers says he's better prepared to parlay a pole position into a race win today than he was when qualified first at record pace five years ago at Richmond International Raceway.
Vickers, who set the track qualifying record at 129.983 mph May 14, 2004, in the previous generation of NASCAR's racecar, turned a lap in 21.238 seconds (127.131 mph) to edge Jeff Gordon (126.844 mph) for the top starting spot in Saturday night's Crown Royal 400 Sprint Cup race.
After winning the pole in '04, Vickers finished eighth in his first start at Richmond, but in eight races since then, he has finished no better than 24th. The driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota hopes to change that statistic on Saturday night.
"It was a great lap," said Vickers, who won his seventh career pole and his second at RIR. "The car was unbelievable. I told the guys when I came across the line that it was a pretty good one. Whether or not it was going to be able to hold up, I wasn't sure.
"I knew that myself and Jeff and Jimmie (Johnson) were very close in practice… And the sun popped out pretty bright when we ran our lap, and I wasn't sure if that was going to make a difference. I couldn't ask any more out of the car. The Red Bull team did a tremendous job. We had a really good car by the end of practice and made it even better for qualifying.
"We probably have as good of a car or better to go and compete for a win, and obviously five years of experience is priceless when it comes to racing in this series."
Virginia native Denny Hamlin (126.665 mph), who dominated last year's spring race at Richmond before cutting a tyre in the closing laps, qualified third, 0.004 seconds ahead of fourth-place starter Martin Truex Jr. (126.642 mph). Jeff Burton (126.322 mph) claimed the fifth starting spot.
Mike Bliss (126.322 mph) qualified sixth in James Finch's #09 car. Brad Keselowski drove the #09 to his first Cup victory in last Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Mark Martin, rookie Scott Speed, David Reutimann and Ryan Newman will start from positions seven through ten, respectively.
As did Vickers, Gordon struggled at the beginning of Friday's first practice session, but the #24 Chevrolet picked up speed in qualifying trim.
"It was a very challenging day for us," Gordon said. "When we switched over to qualifying trim, the car was really good. Hopefully, we can get the race trim part figured out and have a good, competitive car (Saturday), and I think we have hit on some things."
Having been swept up in a major accident on lap seven of last Sunday's race at Talladega, Gordon lost the Cup points lead to Kurt Busch, who will start 17th Saturday.
Todd Bodine and Trevor Boys failed to qualify for the race.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News