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Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualify in top 15 at Darlington

Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualify in top 15 at Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Jeff Gordon made it to the final round of knockout qualifying on Friday at Darlington Raceway. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS scored the ninth starting position.

He was joined inside the top 15 by teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.. Their Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson will line up 22nd and 26th, respectively.

In 51 events (158 starts) at Darlington Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports has earned 14 wins, 42 top-five finishes and 68 top-10s. Jimmie Johnson most recently won at the historic track on May 12, 2012, to claim Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. Gordon leads the majority of active categories as noted above. Kasey Kahne leads all active drivers there with four pole positions.

Race coverage of Saturday's event starts at 6 p.m. ET on FOX and MRN. Check local listings.

Here is a look at how Hendrick Motorsports fares at Darlington:

TEXAS RECAP: Most recently, Kasey Kahne rallied from a 32nd starting spot to finish 11th at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday. Rain on Sunday prompted NASCAR officials to postpone the Sprint Cup event. Kahne ranks 19th in the driver standings.
KAHNE AT DARLINGTON: In 11 Sprint Cup starts at Darlington, Kahne has earned three top-five finishes and four top-10s. He has four career pole positions at the track, which are the most for any active driver there and rank as a personal best for Kahne at any track. Kahne has started in the top 10 nine times at the Track Too Tough to Tame and has completed 99.9 percent of all the laps he’s attempted there (3,966 laps of 3,970 total). His average start there is eighth, and his average finish is 14.2.
CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Kenny Francis unloaded Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 5-829 for Saturday night’s event at Darlington. Most recently, Kahne raced this chassis to an eighth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March.
KAHNE (ON DARLINGTON.): “We were really good in the Darlington race last year. We ran inside the top four through the majority of the night. We were by far the best car at the end of that race, but just didn’t get the win because of circumstances when I was hit by another car as I was making my move for first. I’m looking forward to going back there this weekend. It’s a track I’ve always wanted to win at in the Cup Series, and I definitely think we’re capable of doing so this weekend.”

2014 SEASON: Jeff Gordon, who has posted finishes of 13th or better in each of the season’s first seven races and owns a series-best 7.4 average finishing position, leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver standings by four points over Matt Kenseth. Most recently, Gordon led 40 laps at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday en route to a runner-up finish in the rain-delayed event.
AT DARLINGTON: Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS, has seven wins, three pole positions, 19 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s in 33 Cup starts at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
STAT LEADER: The 42-year old driver ranks first among active drivers in the following statistical categories at the 1.366-mile track: wins (seven), top-five finishes (19; 11 more than nearest competitor entered in Saturday night’s race), top-10s (22), laps led (1,736) and average start (6.8).
CHASSIS CHOICE: No. 24 crew chief Alan Gustafson has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 24-861 for this Saturday night's race. This is a new chassis that has never been raced.
GORDON (ON CHARACTERISTICS AND NO. 24 TEAM’S SUCCESS AT DARLINGTON.): “The first time I drove there, it reminded me of a couple of sprint car tracks – tracks like Winchester (Ind.) Speedway – that are super-fast but you have to respect it or it could ruin your day. Darlington is just a cool, fast place – you get that sensation of speed there because you run right up next to the wall. And the track ‘drives’ you. At other places, we are typically trying to put the car in specific spots on the track. At Darlington, the track naturally ‘feeds’ you to a certain area which is right up next to the wall. Success always starts with the race team and the race car, and I’ve had good ones here. Another key to success at Darlington is being able to push the limits of the car and the track, and keeping it on that ‘edge’ without going over. At Darlington, it’s very easy to go over the edge.”

SEASON-TO-DATE: Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers this season with 493 laps led. The driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Chevrolet SS has the second-best driver rating, with a score of 106.6 after seven NASCAR Sprint Cup events this season.
AT DARLINGTON: In 15 Cup starts at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Johnson has three wins, eight top-five finishes and 11 top-10s. He has an average finish of 8.8, which ranks second-best among active competitors at the 1.366-mile oval. Most recently, Johnson started second and finished fourth in the May 2013 Darlington event. Johnson scored the 200th win for owner Rick Hendrick on May 12, 2012, after leading 134 laps en route to Victory Lane at Darlington.
CHASSIS CHOICES: Crew chief Chad Knaus has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 48-824 for Saturday night’s race. Johnson drove this car to a sixth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March. The backup car is Chassis No. 48-784 which Johnson most recently raced last season at Michigan International Speedway in June.
JOHNSON (ON DARLINGTON.): “Darlington has been a great track for us over the years. The most memorable was winning the 200th for Hendrick Motorsports a few years ago. From a track standpoint, Darlington has character so track position and strategy will be pretty important. There is a ton of history and a great race for the fans to watch. It’s a high speed track – it’s one of my favorites. Texas was disappointing for us. We had such a fast car and had some bad luck so I’m looking forward to this weekend and getting back after it.”

POINTS REPORT: Dale Earnhardt Jr. currently ranks sixth in the driver standings. He trails leader and teammate Jeff Gordon by 31 points. After seven NASCAR Sprint Cup races in the 2014 season, Earnhardt has recorded one win, four top-five finishes and four top-10s. 
AT DARLINGTON: In 19 Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Earnhardt has recorded three top-five finishes and eight top-10s. He has completed 98.4 percent of all laps he's attempted at the 1.366-mile track (6,467 laps of 6,571 total) and has led 171 of those laps. Earnhardt matched his best Darlington finish in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in 2008 after scoring a fourth-place result. He previously finished fourth there in March 2002.
CHASSIS CHOICE: This weekend, crew chief Steve Letarte have unloaded Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-745. Earnhardt last raced this chassis to a 24th-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in March.
EARNHARDT (ON RUNNING AT DARLINGTON.): “It’s been around a long time. One of the toughest race tracks physically that we race on, tough track mentally. 500 miles here is a really long race because the track is quite a big race track and the pace slows down. You are working so hard in the corner so just one lap around here is a lot of work. To have to run 500 miles it’s a pretty tough test of man and machine. This track is starting to grey up pretty good so I’m looking forward to getting out there in practice and seeing what we’ve got.”