Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon claimed pole position for tomorrow's NASCAR Sprint Cup race, alone in the field of qualifiers to beat the 50s mark with a lap of 49.973s (191.624mph) on the 2.666-mile Talladega Superspeedway tri-oval. It's Gordon's first pole in a year - when he started on pole here for this same event in 2011.
The former Cup champion went to the head of the timesheets by finally ousting AJ Allmendinger from a long-standing provisional pole with just three drivers yet to complete their qualifying laps. Gordon then had to watch on as his biggest threat - Richard Petty Motorsport's Aric Almirola, who had been fastest in all the practice sessions on Friday - made the final assault of the afternoon on his pole time.
"I did not expect that good of a lap," Gordon told reporters as he waited for the outcome of Almirola's challenge. "I knew we were going to be a threat for it, but that's pretty sporty."
In the end it proved quite sporty enough indeed, and Almirola's time ended up falling short by just 0.168s off the pole position. That will put him on the second row of the grid for the start of the Aaron's 499, alongside his RPM team mate Marcos Ambrose.
"I thought we had a good shot at the pole and proved to be right - we qualified fourth so we were really close," said Almirola, who is working with new crew chief Mike Ford for the first time this weekend. "We have a really fast car. We didn't want to be fastest in both practices and steal the pole and win the race. We figured we would give something else to the competition for qualifying. Hopefully we will go get us a win tomorrow."
"We missed the pole by two-one hundredths," said Ambrose, alongside Almirola in third place on the grid. "We just keep getting better and better at these race tracks ... We have a chance to win tomorrow. We are going to do whatever we can to stay up front all day and try to lead that last lap."
Gordon was delighted to be back on pole position once more, especially after the sort of luck he's had so far in 2012.
“The biggest positive is that we've had a rough start to the season,” he said. “Not a lot has gone our way. We've had fast race cars but not a lot to show for it. Right now we'll take any kind of positive boost.”
Current championship leader Greg Biffle will start on the third row alongside Gordon's newest Hendrick team mate, Kasey Kahne. The rest of the Hendrick stable are 18th and 19th (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson respectively) in their Chevrolets, on a grid that generally featured an impressive number of Ford-powered cars looking strong up front.
Reigning champion Tony Stewart did secure a top ten start in 8th with his Chevrolet, putting him alongside his closest competitor from 2011 - Carl Edwards - for the start, after the Ford-powered Roush Fenway qualified in 7th place. Trevor Bayne easily secured his place in the race with Ford-backed Wood Brothers in 11th position, bumping JJ Yeley off the 43-car grid for the Aarons 499.