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Earnhardt pole ends 60-race dry spell

It's been 60 races since Dale Earnhardt Jr. has started a NASCAR Sprint Cup race from pole position, and he was thrilled even though it came at the expense of team mate Jeff Gordon.
The last time Dale Earnhardt Jr. started from pole position was in the 2011 Daytona 500, 60 races ago, but on Friday evening he posted a lap of 21.256s (127.023mph) at the three-quarter mile Richmond International Raceway to edge his Hendrick Motorsports team mate Jeff Gordon off provisional pole in the final seconds of the time trials.

"It feels good to get a pole," beamed NASCAR's most popular driver. "It gives us a great starting spot for tomorrow we feel pretty confident about the car after practice today. Starting up front is an advantage and we will get us a nice little pit stall too. I'm just happy we are performing well and looking forward to the race.

“The car drove really good in that qualifying run," he continued. "We have been working over the last two years to improve. We weren't very good last year in qualifying all season. This year we have made some gains, so it feels good to get a pole position and know that we are improving and doing something right there."

Earnhardt added that it was rather strange that he'd never started from pole position at Richmond at the past

"Yeah, that is a bit surprising that I haven't had a pole here ever considering that I do count this in the top five or top 10 of my favourite tracks," he said. "It's a fun race track; we love running here. I think we'll have a good car tomorrow."

This weekend's Federated Auto Parts 400 race at Richmond is the final event before the Chase cut-off, which finalised the dozen drivers who will be fighting for the Sprint Cup championship for the final ten races of 2012. Nine places are already locked, with Tony Stewart also all-but assured of finishing in the top ten and booking a place in the battle to retain his title.

The crucial openings left in the Chase are the two wild card spots for those with the most wins between 11th and 20th in the standings. At the moment, Earnhardt and Gordon's team mate Kasey Kahne has booked himself a place in the Chase by having two wins so far in 2012 despite only qualifying in 21st position for this weekend's race.

"I feel a lot better about it this time but we need to perform and do a good job Saturday night," said Kahne, who said that ideally he would like to oust Stewart from the top ten and leave the reigning champion squeaking in on a wild card instead. "I'd like to get in the top 10. If we run really well and have a shot at winning the race and Tony has a bad race that gives us a shot. It'll be interesting how it all works out."

But the final spot remains very much wide open with several drivers having one win apiece and now dependant on a good night at Richmond to see them through. The wild card is currently provisionally in the hands of Kyle Busch, but Gordon's front row start alongside Earnhardt puts him in with a much better chance of wresting that from the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who qualified back in 15th.

"I think this is a big mission accomplishment for us," he said. "It has been a solid day, we have a good race car.

"I feel like we have a couple of different jobs," he explained. "Number one is just win the race, right? That's our job every weekend. But, we need to put pressure on our competitors. Pressure on the guys we are going to have to beat to win this race, as well as pressure on the guys we are battling with to make this Chase.




Related Pictures

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the #88 Dale Jr. Foundation/National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet through the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 18, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/The Dark Knight Rises/National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates with his crew chief Steve Letarte in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 17, 2012 in Brooklyn, Mich. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, stands by his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2012 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS,  qualified for seventh position Friday, October 31, 2014 for Sunday`s Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Newman, who is in the Chase, is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, qualified for fifth position Friday, October 31, 2014 for Sunday`s Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Harvick, who is in the Chase, is eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet SS qualified for third position Friday, October 31, 2014 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Johnson is shown with his crew chief, Chad Knaus. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS qualified for second position Friday, October 31, 2014 for Sunday`s Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Gordon, who is in the Chase, leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings . (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, poses with the Henry repeating rifle pole award after qualifying for pole position for during Pinnacle Propane Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, poses with the Coor`s Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for during Pinnacle Propane Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, drives during Pinnacle Propane Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Joe Gibbs Racing`s Matt Kenseth in qualifying. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tyler Reddick, driver of the #19 DrawTite Ford, poses with the 21 Means 21 poll award after qualifying for pole position during Pinnacle Propane Qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Grainger Chevrolet, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series O`Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Bit O Honey Ford. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Image)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS celebrates his 4th victory of the season with Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motor Sports, and his girlfriend, Amy Reimann, after winning Sunday, October 26, 2014 the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This is the 10th anniversary of a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash which killed 10 in Martinsville. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS races to a second place finish and Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Both Gordon and Newman are in the The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 4th win of the season with his crew Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase, which Earnhardt, Jr. is not a contender, continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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