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Gordon, Johnson qualify in top three at Sonoma

SONOMA, Calif. – Jeff Gordon, a five-time pole sitter at Sonoma, earned his first outside pole position during Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at the 1.99-mile road course. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet is joined inside the top 19 by teammates Jimmie Johnson (third), Kasey Kahne (15th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (19th).

In 23 Cup events (78 starts) at Sonoma, Hendrick Motorsports leads the competition in victories (six), top-five finishes (26), top-10s (37), pole positions (nine) and laps led (572). Gordon owns five of Hendrick Motorsports’ wins at Sonoma, while Johnson earned the organization’s most recent victory there in 2010.

Sunday’s 110-lap race will be broadcast on television (2 p.m. ET on FOX) and radio (2 p.m. ET on PRN) Check local listings.

Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet
Qualified:  15th.
At Sonoma: In eight NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at Sonoma, Kahne has one win and two top-five finishes. He has earned two pole positions and started in the top 10 in his last six races at the 1.99-mile road course. Kahne’s average starting position of 7.6 ranks him second among full-time drivers during the last seven races at Sonoma, according to NASCAR loop data. During the same period, he ranks eighth for fastest laps run with 27 and eighth for laps led with 41. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet has completed 97.7 percent of all laps attempted at the track (865 of 888 total) and led a total of 41 laps.
Most recently: Kahne opened last weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway from fourth-place, his seventh start inside the top five this season. He encountered handling issues early in the race and worked closely with crew chief Kenny Francis to get back in the top-10. A late-race incident sent the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet to the garage for repairs when a competitor got loose in the back stretch and made contact with Kahne. The No. 5 team was able to put a new front end on the racecar, and Kahne returned to the track with 40 laps to go. He was ultimately scored 33rd and now ranks 16th in the driver standings.
Kahne says: “Hendrick Motorsports has done a lot of road course testing this year, so I think we’re prepared for Sonoma. I’ve qualified really well here in the past. These tracks are always a challenge, but I think our Hendrick Chevrolet will be very competitive.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Qualified: Second.
At Sonoma: In 19 Cup starts at the Sonoma road course, Gordon owns five wins, 12 top-five finishes, 15 top-10s and five poles. His five victories are three more than any other driver. He also leads active drivers for pole positions, top-five finishes and laps led. According to NASCAR loop data statistics from the past seven races at Sonoma, Gordon has the best average finishing position (7.6) and the fifth-best driving rating (99.1) among active drivers. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet earned a second-place finish in this race last year.
Most recently: Gordon improved a starting position of 28th to lead four laps and finish sixth at Michigan International Speedway last weekend. The strong running marked Gordon’s fourth top-10 finish of the season. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet improved two positions in the driver standings to rank 20th and place him in contention for the wild card spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
Gordon says: “While we haven’t had the same success we once had on road courses, I look forward to those events. The road courses bring a different set of challenges, and those challenges are fun. Challenges that I always look forward to as a driver.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
Qualified: Third.
At Sonoma: In 10 starts at Sonoma, Johnson has one win, three top-five finishes and five top-10s. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet has led 85 laps at the 1.99-mile road course and complete 99.4 percent (1,098 of 1,105 laps attempted). Johnson has the sixth-best driver rating (94.1) at Sonoma among active drivers in the last seven races and is ranked third for fastest laps run (48) in the same timeframe. Johnson most recently visited Victory Lane in the 110-lap event in June 2010.
Most recently: Johnson and the No. 48 team decided to make an engine change after qualifying at Michigan International Speedway, meaning the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet started from the rear of the field during last weekend’s Cup event. Despite the deep starting spot, Johnson climbed through the field to run in the top five with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. He ultimately finished fifth, his seventh top-five result of the season. Johnson improved one position in the driver standings and now ranks fourth.
Johnson says: “A good qualifying effort is very important (at Sonoma) because it presents an opportunity for you to play the fuel strategy game. The race has really been decided by how many times you pit. If you can limit yourself to two stops, I think that is the race-winning strategy. It’s really tough to win with three stops. I think it all starts in qualifying.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet
Qualified: 19th.
At Sonoma: Earnhardt has scored five top-15 finishes in 12 Sprint Cup starts at Sonoma. He has led nine laps and completed 93.4 percent of all the laps he’s attempted (1,241 laps of 1,329 total) at the 1.99-mile road course.
Most recently: Earnhardt captured his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the 2012 season last weekend at Michigan International Speedway. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet dominated the event by leading a race-high 95 laps and taking the checkered flag with a more than five-second margin of victory. The win is Earnhardt’s 19th career victory and his second in the Cup series with Hendrick Motorsports. After winning last weekend’s race at Michigan, Earnhardt ranks second in the Sprint Cup championship standings and trails leader Matt Kenseth by four points.
Earnhardt says:  “It’s been a good week.  I just did a little bit of media Tuesday and otherwise it’s been pretty typical.  The team is excited about our win to finally get that out of the way and real happy with how the season is going.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer before the Chase just learn all we can learn and put ourselves in the best position we can during the Chase to compete and that is about it. I’m looking forward to the race this weekend. I enjoy coming here. I haven’t got the best track record at this track but it’s still a fun place. 

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