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Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualify top 16 at Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, earned the outside pole position during NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying on Friday at Darlington Raceway. He toured the 1.366-mile oval in 27.173 seconds at roughly 180.974 mph to record his third career outside pole there – a position that has resulted in an average place of second and a victory in 2012 for the three-time Darlington winner.

The 2012 win also marked the 200th Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports.

Johnson will be joined in the top 16 by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne (fourth), Jeff Gordon (eighth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (16th).

The Saturday night Darlington race will be televised on FOX and broadcast on MRN. The green flag is scheduled to drop at 6:45 p.m. ET.

700th START: Gordon will become the 16th driver to make 700 career starts in the Sprint Cup series this weekend at Darlington Raceway.  Gordon, the driver of the No. 24 Cromax Pro Chevrolet SS, will tie Buddy Baker for 15th on the all-time list when he takes the green flag on Saturday night. Gordon’s starts are consecutive, and only trails Ricky Rudd (788 starts) on that all-time list. Click here for more statistics related to Gordon’s milestone start.

IN THE RANKINGS: Gordon, who has won seven times at Darlington Raceway, ranks first among active drivers and third overall on the all-time wins list at the “Lady in Black.” He trails Hall of Famers David Pearson (10) and Dale Earnhardt Sr. (nine) for the top spot on the all-time list. Gordon’s victories include a record four-consecutive Southern 500s from September 1995 to September 1998.

SEASON-TO-DATE: In the first 10 races this season, Kahne ranks second with 230 of the fastest laps run, and he ranks third in green-flag speed with an average ranking of 5.5. Kahne’s 98.9 driver rating is fourth-best as are his 223 laps led. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet SS has scored five top-10 results in the last eight Sprint Cup races. His average start in 10 starts is 9.0, and his average finish is 14.7.

DARLINGTON LOOP DATA: During the last eight years at Darlington, Kahne has run 192 fastest laps, which ranks third among drivers according to NASCAR loop data. During the same period, he also ranks fourth-fastest on restarts (156.759), fifth for laps led with 304, sixth in driver rating (98.3) and sixth in fastest drivers early in a run (162.812). Kahne’s average running position of 11.087 ranks him seventh among drivers in that same timeframe.

JOHNSON AT DARLINGTON: In 14 career starts at the “Track Too Tough to Tame,” Johnson has recorded three victories, seven top-five finishes, and 10 top-10s. He also has an average start of 12.5, average finish of 9.1 and currently ranks fourth in driver rating at 105.7. Johnson was the most recent driver to sweep the season at Darlington in 2004, the final year two races were run at the 1.366-mile oval.

STAYING IN THE LOOP: Hendrick Motorsports’ quartet of Cup drivers all rank inside the top-10 in two of NASCAR’s loop data categories: average running position and total laps run inside the top 15. With an average running position of 6.771, Johnson currently ranks second overall. Earnhardt sits fourth with 12.885, Gordon is sixth with 13.770 and Kahne is ninth with 13.962. In laps run in the top 15, Johnson ranks second with 2,876 laps, Kahne is fifth (2,342 laps), Earnhardt is ninth (2,116 laps) and Gordon is 10th (2,014 laps).

HENDRICK AT DARLINGTON: In 50 events (154 starts) at Darlington Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports has earned 14 wins, 40 top-five finishes and 65 top-10s. Johnson most recently won at the historic track on May 12, 2012, to claim Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th Sprint Cup victory. Jeff Gordon, who will be making his 700th career Cup start this weekend, leads all active drivers with seven wins, 18 top-five finishes, a 6.7th-place average start and 1,720 laps led at the 1.366-mile oval.

HELMET OF HOPE: For the fifth weekend in a row, Johnson will be drawing for two charities that will be included on his helmet for the Helmet of Hope campaign.  The program runs through May 26 and at the completion, 13 charities will find their names on Johnson’s helmet. Beginning in 2008, Helmet of Hope awards a selected charity with a $10,000 grant and more. To date, the program has contributed more than $430,000 to 61 different charities. Click here for more information.

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