RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — It's a Hendrick Motorsports front row at Richmond International Raceway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole for Saturday night's "regular-season" finale, turning a lap of 127.023 mph in his Chevrolet to bump teammate Jeff Gordon from the top starting spot.
"I was as surprised as anybody," said Earnhardt, who won the 11th pole of his career.
It's the first pole for NASCAR's most popular driver since the 2011 Daytona 500.
It came at the expense of Gordon, who is trying to race his way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Gordon wound up second, and was pleased with the effort.
"Mission accomplished," he said.
Gordon needs a strong race Saturday night and a little bit of help to earn one of the two wild-card berths in the 12-driver Chase field. Although eight drivers go into the race mathematically eligible for the final two spots in the Chase field, the talk has focused on a battle between Gordon and Kyle Busch for the last slot.
Busch, a four-time Richmond winner who picked up his only victory this season here in May, qualified 15th. But Gordon knew that's not far enough in the pack to not worry about Busch.
"In my opinion, it's really Kyle's to lose," Gordon said. "For us, it's really nothing to lose, everything to gain."