SPARTA, Ky. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first Kentucky Speedway pole position and the 12th of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career during Friday’s qualifying session at the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Earnhardt, benefiting from cloud cover, toured track in 29.406 seconds at roughly 183.636 mph to record the second straight pole there for Hendrick Motorsports. Jimmie Johnson was the pole sitter for the 2012 contest.
All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished inside the top 10 last year at Kentucky Speedway, boosting the organization’s overall average finish to 10.2 at the recently added 1.5-mile oval. Johnson scored Hendrick Motorsports’ first pole position there during the 2012 contest, but Kentucky remains the only track where the team has yet to visit Victory Lane.
Coverage of Saturday's race is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT and PRN. Check local listings.
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet SS
At Kentucky: Kahne has one top-five finish in two Cup starts at Kentucky. The 33-year-old driver finished second in last year’s event at the 1.5-mile tri-oval. His average start there is 11.5, and his average finish is 7.5, which ranks him seventh among active Sprint Cup Series drivers at Kentucky.
Most Recently: Kahne lined up 15th and finished sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway on June 23. He moved up one spot in the driver standings to 11th and currently holds the number one wildcard spot with 10 races remaining before the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kahne (On Kentucky.): “I wasn’t a huge fan of that track at first because it’s so rough, wide and just kind of different as far as driving around the track. We tested there so much over the years before it was on the schedule, so I kind of grew not to like it, but I actually liked racing there in 2012 (its second year on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule). It’s still rough, but it’s a tough track, tough to get a hold of. There are lots of racing lines there. Some don’t work and look like they should and other ones work so you really have to pay attention to that. But I grew to kind of like it, and I’d like to run great there again this year and be upfront and contend for the win.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
At Kentucky: In two starts at the Kentucky Speedway, Gordon has recorded one top-five finish, two top-10s and is one of five drivers to have finished inside the top 10 in both races run in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky is the lone track on the Cup schedule where Gordon has yet to score a victory.
Most recently: With his second-place finish last weekend in Sonoma, Calif., Gordon surpassed Hall of Famer David Pearson for third on NASCAR’s all-time list for top-five finishes with 302. Gordon now sits 13th in the driver standings, 12 points out of 10th.
Gordon (On Kentucky.): "Prior to last year's race, I might have considered this to be one of my worst tracks. But we had a good car and a good run here last year - one that we want to improve upon. Of course, we have the Generation-6 car here for the first time. We're learning every single week with the new Chevrolet SS, and we're learning every single trip to Kentucky. Hopefully, we can put it all together so we can check this one off the list."
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet SS
At Kentucky: In two previous starts at Kentucky Speedway, Johnson has earned one top-five finish, two top-10s, one pole position and an average finish of 4.5. Kentucky is one of five tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule where Johnson has yet to go to Victory Lane at.
Most recently: Johnson recorded his league leading 10th top-10 finish of the 2013 season last weekend at Sonoma Raceway, finishing ninth. With the finish, Johnson remains first in the driver standings, 25 points ahead of second-place Carl Edwards.
Johnson (On Kentucky.): “I love how much character that racetrack has. It’s so rough. The groove moves around and you really are just trying to dodge the big swells and bumps to find grip for your racecar. It’s a track I didn’t have a lot of success at in the (NASCAR) Nationwide Series, and even going there to test before my Cup career really started. We tested there a lot, and I crashed all the time. When the racetrack was back on the schedule, I got pretty nervous about things, but I’ve had a couple of good runs and look forward to going back.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Youth Foundation Chevrolet SS
At Kentucky: In two previous starts at Kentucky Speedway, Earnhardt has recorded one top-five finish and one top-10, a fourth-place finish in this event last year. He also averaged a 6.599 running position and a driver rating of 112.4 during the 2012 event, ranking him fifth among all drivers in both categories.
Most recently: Earnhardt took the green flag from 26th last weekend in Sonoma and was able to improve 14 positions by the end of the race, coming home 12th. With the finish, the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Youth Foundation Chevrolet SS now ranks tied for sixth in the driver standings, 94 points behind teammate and points leader Jimmie Johnson.
Earnhardt (On Kentucky.): “Kentucky is a little rough, and the groove is not real distinct. So it lends itself to good side-by-side racing. The exit to Turn 4 is really, really wide so you just kind of play around and find a groove that works for you. Every time you change tires you kind of have to be ready to move around a little bit and find out where your car is fast and where that set of tires wants to run on the racetrack.”