Qualifying for this year's first Talladega Superspeedway race couldn't have gone any better for Hendrick Motorsports, which saw its drivers seize the top four positions on the grid.
Six-time Talladega winner Jeff Gordon topped the timesheets and claimed his 70th career Sprint Cup pole, with Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhart Jr. taking second, third and fourth respectively which means that the team controls the front two rows of the grid for the start of Sunday's Aaron's 499.
Gordon's time was 53.723s, which on the 2.66 mile oval track made for an average speed of 178.248mph - 6mph slower than Juan Montoya's pole position here last year thanks to the smaller restrictor plate introduced at the start of 2011 when speeds at Daytona threatened to exceed the 200mph mark.
In a race that many drivers agree is very similar to the season's other big restrictor plate event, the Daytona 500 back in February, that race's shock winner Trevor Bayne once again proved a strong contender and will start from 11th position. Bayne, along with the majority of the field, expect the race to once again heavily feature the new two-car draft style first seen at Daytona, and expects car-to-car communications and drafting deals to be a big part of Sunday afternoon's activity. However, not all drivers were pleased with the prospect.
"I'm hoping this kind of racing goes away fast so we don't have to talk about this no more," said Dale Earnhardt Jr before qualifying. "This is a mess. This is a bunch of crap. Y'all don't look at it and think it's strange?"
It was a strangely poor day at the office for the three drivers currently at the top of the Sprint Cup points standings. The current leader, Carl Edwards, could do no better than 20th position, while Matt Kenseth will start from 25th and Kyle Busch is all the way back in 34th.
Nor was it any better for the only driver to have won more than one race in 2011, Kevin Harvick, who slumped to 38th spot. He insisted that this wasn't a problem for race day: "We had a little vibration there. We were just really conservative on temperature and things with the motor. We aren't going to take any chances on hurting anything today. We have a plan coming into the weekend and qualifying wasn't a part of it."
With 46 cars competing for a grid slot at Talladega - including a return to Sprint Cup duty for Sam Hornish Jr for the first time this season - there were inevitably three cars that failed to qualify, which were Mike Skinner, Tony Raines and Michael McDowell. Bill Elliott takes a Champion's Provisional entry.
Hornish was sitting in for Robby Gordon, who was prevented from getting to Talladega yesterday because of the storms in the area. He found his times disallowed after the car failed height checks in post-session inspections, but still makes the grid for Sunday.
Qualifying and other events went ahead as planned despite the previous day's severe storms
causing a curtailment of practice and the sounding or tornado warnings in the vicinity of the track.
Full times and positions
available in the results section.