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Kahne wins Talladega pole, teammates qualify in top 17

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Kasey Kahne earned his first pole position and the eighth overall for Hendrick Motorsports at Talladega Superspeedway during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at the 2.66-mile restrictor-plate track. This is Hendrick Motorsports’ fourth straight pole at Talladega, as Jeff Gordon won the top spot in May. Prior to that, Hendrick teammates swept the front row at Talladega in November 2009, April 2011 and October 2011.

On Saturday, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet toured Talladega in 50.02 seconds at roughly 191.455 mph to score his third pole position of the 2012 season and his first in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

“We practiced a lot in the draft yesterday and felt really good about our Hendrickcars.com Chevy,” Kahne said. “We ran a little bit by ourselves, ran with Jeff (Gordon), did the two-car deal. The car was comfortable. A lot of preparation at Hendrick Motorsports for this, and the engines run great.”

Kahne’s teammates qualified inside the top 17 on Saturday. Gordon scored the sixth spot, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. will line up 12th. Jimmie Johnson will roll off the grid 17th.

In 57 events (182 starts) at Talladega, Hendrick Motorsports has 11 wins, 46 top-five finishes and 69 top-10s. Seven of the organization’s wins have happened after its drivers started the race ninth or better. In the team’s most recent Talladega win, Earnhardt pushed teammate Johnson to Victory Lane in April 2011. Johnson, the outside pole sitter, matched the closest margin of victory recorded—.002 seconds—since the use of electronic scoring.

Gordon kept Hendrick Motorsports’ streak of second-place finishes intact by taking runner-up honors on Sept. 30 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Currently, the organization has six straight runner-up results, dating back to Aug. 25 when Johnson finished second at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. In 29 races this season, the four Hendrick teammates have combined to record 12 runner-up finishes.

Sunday’s 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 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet
Qualified: First.
At Talladega: In 17 Sprint Cup starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Kahne has recorded three top-five finishes and four top-10s. He has led 40 laps at the high-banked oval. Kahne recorded a fourth-place result in the May event at the Alabama oval and finished sixth in this race one year ago. According to NASCAR loop data during the last 15 races at Talladega, Kahne is ranked fifth among active drivers for green-flag passes (4,862). The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet had the fifth-highest driver rating (107.4) in this race at the Alabama superspeedway last year.
Most recently: Kahne opened last weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Dover (Del.) International Speedway from the ninth position, but encountered misfortune when the yellow flag was waved on Lap 69 for debris. At that point, Kahne was on pit road and the caution period put him one lap down. On Lap 245, another caution waved for debris while Kahne was in the Lucky Dog position, and he returned as one of nine cars on the lead lap. With 46 laps to go, Kahne noticed a shaking condition in his No. 5 Chevrolet and pitted so his team could address the issue. The pit stop put Kahne three laps down, and he returned to the track to finish 15th. He now ranks sixth in the driver standings
Kahne says: “Talladega is really the biggest wild card in the Chase (for the NASCAR Sprint Cup). Almost everyone has a shot at the win, but you can be out of the running early, too. We’re going into the weekend with a couple of good superspeedway finishes this year, and the guys at the shop put together awesome restrictor-plate cars. If we can stay out of trouble, we should have a solid day.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Qualified: Sixth.
At Talladega: In 39 Cup starts at Talladega, Gordon has earned six wins, 14 top-five finishes, 18 top-10s and three pole positions. Gordon most recently started from the pole position at the superspeedway during the Cup race on May 6 earlier this season. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has led 832 laps at the Alabama oval, ranking him first among active drivers at the track. According to NASCAR loop data statistics for the last 15 races at Talladega, Gordon ranks ninth among active drivers for laps run in the top 15 (1,302) and has the 12th-highest driver rating with a score of 81.5.
Most recently: Gordon opened last weekend’s race at Dover from the sixth position and posted some of the fastest lap times as the race unfolded, climbing to run in the top five before Lap 50. Gordon remained one of the eight cars on the lead lap as the race continued, working with crew chief Alan Gustafson throughout the race to improve the car’s overall handling. As the 400-lap event drew to a close, most of the leaders went into fuel-conservation mode, and Gordon, sufficient on fuel, again began to post some of the fastest times on the track. Gordon moved into second with six laps left and held on to finish in that position, improving two spots in the championship standings to 10th.
Gordon says: “There is no set strategy that works best. If there was, we all would be doing it. Drafting can be fun, and the finish is usually exciting, but you don’t know when, where or if you’re going to be caught up in the ‘big one.’ I’ve raced up front and been caught up in a wreck. I’ve also been involved while running in the middle of the pack, and also while running what I thought was a conservative distance back of the main pack. But I’ve also won using each of those strategies. You may have to use each at some point during the race. You just need to be willing to change and adjust if a different plan will put you in a better position to win.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
Qualified: 17th.
At Talladega: In 21 Cup starts at Talladega, Johnson has earned two wins, five top-five finishes, nine top-10s and four pole positions. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet most recently went to Victory Lane at the Alabama oval after starting from the outside pole position in April 2011. According to NASCAR loop data for the last 15 races at Talladega, Johnson ranks seventh among active drivers for laps run in the top 15 (1,339) and has the 11th-highest driver rating with a score of 81.5.
Most recently: Johnson started last weekend’s Cup event at Dover in 11th, but quickly climbed into the top five, a position he held for the majority of the race. After a Lap 308 caution period, Johnson’s pit crew put him position to line up on the front row to challenge the race leader on the restart. When the green flag waved, Johnson took the lead. With roughly 40 laps left, crew chief Chad Knaus instructed Johnson to give up the lead and conserve fuel. Johnson held on to finish fourth and moved into second in the championship rankings – just five points behind leader Brad Keselowski.
Johnson says: “It (Talladega) definitely is the one track in the Chase I’ve kind of been a little concerned about. There are a lot of great tracks for the (No.) 48 team coming up in the Chase, but this one is definitely one where anything can happen. There are so many things that are out of your control. There is a lot of room on this track to move around though, obviously, and try things. I think the odds are in our favor to be able to finish one of these restrictor-plate races this year. At least I hope so.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew “Paint the 88”/National Guard Chevrolet
Qualified: 12th.
At Talladega: In 25 Cup starts at Talladega, Earnhardt has recorded five wins, nine top-five finishes and 13 top-10s. He scored a record-setting four consecutive wins at the 2.66-mile superspeedway from October 2001 to April 2003. Earnhardt’s five wins at Talladega are the most for him at any track and rank him third all-time among drivers at the Alabama oval. According to NASCAR’s loop data statistics, Earnhardt is second in the driver rating category at Talladega with a score of 90.
Most recently: Earnhardt climbed from a 23rd-place starting position to 17th within the first 46 laps at Dover last weekend. Unfortunately, he was knocked off the lead lap when the caution flag was waved on Lap 46. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet was heading for his pit stall at the time the yellow flag was waved, putting him one lap down. Earnhardt spent the remainder of the race fighting for the Lucky Dog position so he could return to the lead lap. Earnhardt ultimately crossed the finish line 11th and now ranks seventh in the championship standings.
Earnhardt says: “We’ve rode around and played it pretty conservative before (at Talladega).  That hasn’t really worked out. Last couple times we’ve been racing just as hard as we can race, and I think that’s just about what we’ll do this time.”

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