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NASCAR Sprint Cup Watkins Glen: Gordon takes pole

Jeff Gordon succeeded in pipping Marcos Ambrose to pole position for Sunday's road course race at Watkins Glen International.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying results from Watkins Glen International

Jeff Gordon claimed pole position for this weekend's Cheez-It 355 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International, meaning that the 43-year-old four-time champion has now clinched a pole in each of the last 22 consecutive seasons.

Gordon's time of 68.126s (129.466mph) on the 2.45-mile, eight-turn permanent road course had succeeded in displacing provisional pole sitter Marcos Ambrose from the top spot by 0.173s, and no one who followed him out in the remaining minutes - including a final attempt from Ambrose himself - was able to improve on it.

It gives Gordon his 75th pole in 747 Cup starts, the most of any active driver, Ryan Newman being the next best with 55 career poles in Cup competition. It's his third pole in 22 races at Watkins Glen, where he is a four-time winner between 1997 and 2001.

"Oh gosh, I am so proud of this pole!" he beamed afterwards. "Qualifying has really been what has been hurting us a Watkins Glen, and I blame myself really. I'm so happy that I got three shots at it today. I really think that made the big difference.

"The first lap I did okay, but I got held up a little coming back to the chequered. The second one was a really good lap and got us into the top 12. I just tried to do the same things in that last lap," he explained. "I thought it was about the same as what I ran before, I didn't think it was going to be that much better. Wow what a lap. I'm so excited!

"I'm pumped, this gives us a lot of confidence. I think today does make a statement," he said. "We've got a real possibility with the Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. After today, I believe anything is possible."

Ambrose had managed to set a new qualifying track record in the first round of qualifying with a run of 68.113s (129.491mph) but the Australian wasn't able to repeat that performance in the all-important second and final round.

"I thought we had it at the end but it wasn't enough," he said afterwards. "It was a pretty good lap though and I will take it. You have to be happy with front row starts!

"That's a pretty good start to the weekend, I wish Jeff was a little kinder to me to let me get the pole," he added. "He is a fantastic road racer and I have watched a lot of races here where he dominated. He is having a standout year. You can't discount anybody out there. Anyone in that top ten if they had gotten the pole I wouldn't have been surprised."

Behind Gordon and Ambrose, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick will line up alongside each other on row two, with Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger making up row three for the start of Sunday afternoon's race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted that he's cooked his breaks between the two rounds of qualifying but still managed to hold on to seventh place on the grid alongside Matt Kenseth, while Brad Keselowski was somewhat disappointed to only manage ninth place putting him on row five with Ryan Newman. Keselowski's Penske team mate Joey Logano and Brian Vickers also made it through to the top 12 shootout.

"It was okay," shrugged Keselowski. "We didn't get to do a mock run in practice. I don't know if it would have been any different anyway, who knows? We just didn't quite put all the pieces together to make it work.

"We had some traffic on one run and then had to do an extra run and it kept all stacking up," he added. "I feel like we are really fast in race trim, we have a lot of speed, we just need it to not fall off so much. If we can do that, we will have a shot to win tomorrow."

Just missing out on making it through from the first round of qualifying were Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray who will line-up in 13th and 14th places for the start of Sunday's race just ahead of Justin Allgaier, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Cole Whitt.

Last year's race winner Kyle Busch could only manage 19th place in qualifying putting him alongside Paul Menard. Also left with a lot of work to do in the race are Kyle Larson (starting from 23rd), Clint Bowyer (24th), Aric Almirola (27th), Greg Biffle (28th), Kasey Kahne (30th) and Austin Dillon (31st).

"Honestly I don't know," said Ambrose why he had been so far off the pace of Ambrose, his Richard Petty Motorsport team mate. "I felt like I hit all my marks just like I did in practice and I felt like I got up through the Esses pretty good. I don't know where the half-second I lost from yesterday was.

"I guess that is why I am not a road course racer," he admitted. "I felt like I had really picked up a lot yesterday during practice and got into rhythm and then to wake up this morning and have to lay down a lap, this is not my specialty. We didn't lay a good lap down and I am really disappointed."

Nelson Piquet Jr. will start his first Sprint Cup race from 32nd place, a row ahead from another road course specialist Boris Said who qualified in 34th position.

Danica Patrick did not put in any serious qualifying runs, preferring instead to work on race trim in the knowledge that she will have to start from the back of the field after having to change an engine between practice sessions on Friday. She also ended the day with a crash that will likely see her take to the backup car for the rest of the weekend.

"To me it almost looks like the shock broke," said Patrick's crew chief Tony Gibson. "She went into 1 and she said it moved more than it normally did and then Kenseth said it started tyre smoking and as soon as he said that, she hit. It looks to me like a shock broke. It looks like it just compressed all down and done."

Patrick wasn't hurt in the incident and was able to walk to the ambulance for transportation to the in-field care centre where she was quickly evaluated and released, but she was understandably not in the best of moods.

"It has been a record horrible day, I'm pretty sure," she said. "Why not stack it on?"

Full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying results from Watkins Glen International



Related Pictures

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Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, looks on in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, won the pole position Saturday, August 9, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York. Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with his team after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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