JOLIET, Ill. – Jimmie Johnson earned the pole position during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Chicagoland Speedway to record his second of the 2012 season and the 27th of his career. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet toured the 1.5-mile speedway in 29.53 seconds at roughly 182.865 mph to pick up the pole in the first race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Sunday’s race will kick off at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne join Johnson in the top 10 with fourth- and sixth-place starting spots, respectively, while Jeff Gordon will start 19th in his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet.
In 11 races (46 Cup starts) at Chicagoland, Hendrick Motorsports has two wins, 16 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s. Gordon earned Hendrick Motorsports’ first Cup win at the racetrack in 2006.
Kahne, Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt all qualified for spots inside the 2012 Chase, marking the first time that Hendrick Motorsports has had all of its drivers earn spots in the postseason playoff. To date, the organization’s best overall result happened in 2009 when three of the four drivers qualified and finished one-two-three—Johnson won the Cup, Mark Martin finished second and Gordon took third.
Sunday’s 267-lap race will be broadcast on television (1 p.m. ET on ESPN) and radio (1 p.m. ET on MRN). Check local listings.
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet
At Chicago: In eight NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Kahne has one top-five finish and two top-10s. He enters Sunday’s event with four straight top-15 finishes at the 1.5-mile oval. In the last seven races at Chicagoland, Kahne ranks as the best closer, moving up an average of 2.4 positions in the last 10 percent of each race according to NASCAR loop data. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet has turned 802 laps in the top 15 at Chicago.
Most recently: Kahne opened the rain-delayed Cup event at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway from the 21st position on Sept. 8. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet steadily improved to run fifth when the red flag was waved for rain at Lap 152 of 400. After a 51-minute delay, the red flag was lifted and the cars returned to green-flag racing. Kahne led briefly before settling into the pack and finishing 12th, clinching a wild card spot in the Chase. He is seeded 11th with 2,000 points heading into the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Kahne says: “I enjoy going to Chicago. We haven’t always run our best there, but we’ve surprised ourselves with good finishes at some other tracks this year. It’s going to be important to come out of the gate strong in the first Chase race. We’re starting without bonus points, so we want to make up some ground this weekend.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet
At Chicago: In 11 Cup starts at Chicago, Gordon has one win, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s. Gordon’s 2006 victory at the 1.5-mile track was the first win for Hendrick Motorsports at Chicago. According to NASCAR loop data for the past seven races at Chicago, Gordon has the seventh-highest driver rating with a score of 95.4. He ranks fifth for fastest laps run, with 87 of the fastest laps turned, and sits third for laps in the top 15 with 1,380 laps.
Most recently: Gordon was ranked 13th in the driver standings entering last weekend’s race at Richmond, and needed a strong showing to contend for a wild card spot in the Chase. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet started from the outside pole position, but almost immediately encountered a handling issue and subsequently went a lap down prior to a mid-race red-flag period. The No. 24 team continued to work on the Chevrolet throughout the race and Gordon climbed to run fifth with 73 laps to go. With five laps left, Gordon improved to take second, but didn’t have enough to reach the leader and took runner-up honors. He clinched the second wild card position and begins the Chase ranked 12th with 2,000 points.
Gordon says: “You want to come out of the gate strong (during the Chase) and get the best possible result you can. If that’s a win, great. If that’s fifth, great. A lot can happen during the Chase. To me, 10 weeks is a lot of racing.”
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet
At Chicago: In 10 Cup starts at Chicago, Johnson has five top-five finishes and eight top-10s. While the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet is still seeking a win at the 1.5-mile track, he has taken runner-up honors twice (2004, 2008). According to NASCAR loop data for the past seven races at Chicago, Johnson leads all active competitors for average start (5.1), number of fastest laps (237) and driver rating (112.2) categories.
Most recently: Johnson opened Saturday’s race at Richmond from fifth and maintained that position through an early caution for rain. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet was running fourth on Lap 152, the red flag was waved, and NASCAR officials ordered the cars to pit road. After a nearly 51-minute red-flag delay, Johnson opened green-flag racing six laps later competing with Earnhardt for third. Johnson climbed to take the lead briefly before pitting for adjustments to improve the handling of the No. 48 Chevy. He ultimately finished 13th behind teammate Kahne and enters the postseason ranked second with 2,006 points.
Johnson says: “I always like going to Chicago. I think the city is great and I know there are a lot of race fans in the area. We’ve never won there, which is kind of frustrating, especially because we’ve been close so many times. It’s also Chad’s (Knaus, crew chief) home track. We really want to give him a win there. We’ve won in California (Johnson’s home state) several times and it’s time he gets to experience winning at home. I feel like we owe him one and we’re going to do everything we can to give him that opportunity this weekend.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet
At Chicago: In 11 Cup starts at Chicago, Earnhardt has one win, three top-five finishes and four top-10s. He has an average start there of 18.2 and a 14.8 average finish. Earnhardt reached Victory Lane at Chicagoland Speedway on July 10, 2005. According to NASCAR’s loop data statistics, Earnhardt ranks ninth among drivers for laps run in the top 15 at Chicago. During the last six races at the 1.5-mile oval, he has spent 63.8 percent of his laps (1,195 of 1,872 total) running in the top 15.
Most recently: Earnhardt lined up from the pole position at Richmond for the first time of his career last Saturday, and was credited as leading the first six laps. Earnhardt was continually successful on restarts and led four times for 64 laps before the red flag was waved for rain, he was running second at the time. He returned to the lead after the pace car led the field back to green on Lap 156, but soon encountered a loose-handling condition that affected his position. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet held on to finish 14th and enters the Chase ranked seventh with 2,003 points.
Earnhardt says: “I feel we’ve got a good shot at it. We’ve been consistent all year long, and I think our chances are as good as they have ever been for me. I had a pretty good shot at it back in ‘04, but I think this year is a better opportunity. We’ve got the team, and we’re poised to make a run at it. You’ve got to put the guys that have won the championship at the top of the list as the favorites but we are in the conversation, and we’re going to work hard to still be in that conversation at Homestead (Fla.).”