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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)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, walks through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, leads Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, at the end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finishes in second place, Sunday June 28, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finishes in second place, Sunday June 28, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finishes in second place, Sunday June 28, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Folds of Honor/Outback Steakhouse/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, finishes in fourth place, Sunday June 28, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Folds of Honor/Outback Steakhouse/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, finishes in fourth place, Sunday June 28, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, qualifies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, poses with Miss Coors Light Amanda Mertz and the Coors Light Pole Award decal after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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