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Earnhardt, Gordon sweep front row at Richmond

Earnhardt, Gordon sweep front row at Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon combined to earn an all-Hendrick Motorsports front row for Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Richmond International Raceway after the teammates recorded one-two starting spots during the Friday qualifying session.

Earnhardt earned his first pole position at Richmond and his 11th of his career after touring the .75-mile track in 21.26 seconds at roughly 127.023 mph on Friday.  Gordon, who qualified before Earnhardt, traveled Richmond in 21.26 seconds just a fraction slower at roughly 126.981 mph.

Earnhardt and Gordon were joined in the top 10 by teammate Jimmie Johnson, who qualified fifth. Kasey Kahne drove his No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet to record a 21st-place starting spot.

In 57 Sprint Cup races (178 starts) at Richmond, Hendrick Motorsports has 10 wins, which leads all active teams at the short track. The organization also has 50 top-five finishes, 87 top-10s, 3,637 laps led and a team-best 15 pole positions at Richmond. Gordon, who ranks tied for first among active drivers with five pole positions, leads active drivers with 1,413 laps led and an 8.1 average starting position.

Richmond is one of eight tracks where Hendrick Motorsports has 10 or more victories. Of Hendrick Motorsports’ 10 wins at Richmond, half have occurred in the second race of the year. Tim Richmond earned the organization’s first victory there on Sept. 7, 1986, after leading 51 laps. Most recently, Johnson went to Victory Lane at the short track on Sept. 7, 2008.

Saturday’s 400-lap race will be broadcast on television (7 p.m. ET on ABC) and radio (6:30 p.m. ET on MRN). Check local listings.

Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet
Qualified: 21st.
At Richmond: In 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at Richmond International Raceway, Kahne has earned one win, four top-five finishes and seven top-10s. He won his first career Cup race in 2005 at the Virginia short track after starting from the pole position. Kahne most recently scored a fifth-place finish at Richmond in April. He has led 278 laps at the oval during the last seven years, ranking him eighth among active drivers during that time. Kahne has turned 279 fastest laps during the same timeframe at Richmond ranking him seventh.
Most recently: Handling was a persistent issue for Kahne, opened last weekend’s Cup event at Atlanta Motor Speedway from 11th. As the race unfolded , he ran as high as 10th but couldn’t maintain his footing in the top 20 due to continued handling issues. Crew chief Kenny Francis attempted major chassis and air pressure adjustments throughout the race, and Kahne held on to finish 23rd. Kahne remains ranked 11th in the driver standings as he seeks a spot in the upcoming Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kahne could lock himself into the field with a victory, but he also has a strong shot at one of the wild card positions.
Kahne says: “We had a solid finish at Richmond in the spring, and we need another one this weekend. Our cars have been really fast on the short tracks all year. We need to put together a full race and get ourselves into the Chase on Saturday night.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Qualified: Second.
At Richmond: In 39 Cup starts at the .75-mile track, Gordon has two wins, five pole positions, 15 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet ranks sixth in the driver rating category with a score of 96.2 among active drivers in the last 15 races at Richmond. Gordon ranks fourth for fastest laps run (302 total) and seventh for laps in the top 15 (3,879 laps) during the same timeframe.
Most recently: Starting from fifth, Gordon improved to take the lead just six laps after the green flag dropped last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Gordon reported a loose-handling No. 24 Chevrolet, but was able to maintain his footing inside the top 15 for the majority of the race. Gordon raced to second place with 33 laps remaining. The caution flag was waved with five laps to go, and after the restart, Gordon held on to finish second. He now ranks 13th in the driver standings and is one of three drivers, including teammate Kahne, fighting for a wild card spot in the upcoming Chase.
Gordon says: "We're going with guns loaded ready to do battle. This race is always intense and I expect it to be a pretty crazy night. It's a little bit different because it's a short track (compared to last week's race on the 1.54-mile Atlanta track). I think everybody expects there to be a little more pushing and shoving on the short track. I've been saying all along that I think it's going to come down to the last lap at Richmond - and we're going to fight all the way down to that last lap.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
Qualified: Fifth.
At Richmond: In 21 Cup starts at Richmond, Johnson has three wins, five top-five finishes, eight top-10s and two pole positions. Johnson has completed 94 percent of all the laps he’s attempted (7,898 of 8,403) at Richmond and led 415 career laps in his No. 48 Chevrolet at the Virginia oval. He owns the 10th-best driver rating (89.6) for the last 15 races at Richmond and also ranks 10th for fastest laps run (215).
Most recently: Johnson opened last Sunday’s Cup race from eighth and spent the majority of the event running inside the top 10. Early in the race, He reported the No. 48 Chevrolet was loose, and he worked with crew chief Chad Knaus to fix the handling and find the fastest lines. With 33 laps to go, Johnson was collected in an incident that ultimately sent the team to the garage. He was scored with a 34th-place result and now ranks fourth in the driver standings after clinching a spot in the Chase at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Johnson says: “The goal is to go in (to Richmond) secure. That is my goal every year. We sit down and write out our goals and that is at the top of the list every time. First step in the whole thing is to make sure we are locked in by Richmond. I’ve watched friends deal with very stressful evenings there, and I really don’t want to be a part of that.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet
Qualified: First.
At Richmond: In 26 Cup starts at Richmond, Earnhardt has recorded three wins, nine top-five finishes and 11 top-10s. He has led a total of 427 laps and completed 99.1 percent of all laps he's attempted at the short track (10,308 laps of 10,403 total). With three victories at Richmond, Earnhardt is one of four drivers ranked tied for second for most wins at Richmond among active drivers. Earnhardt most recently went to Victory Lane at Richmond on May 6, 2006, after leading 47 laps.
Most recently: Earnhardt made big moves during last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He started from 35th and improved to finish seventh, recording his 17th top-10 finish of the season. Throughout the race, crew chief Steve Letarte and the No. 88 team continually made adjustments to the handling of Earnhardt’s Chevrolet, and they found themselves in the top 15 by Lap 45. After going a lap down, Earnhardt recovered to run inside the top 10 for the remainder of the race and crossed the finish line seventh. He now ranks second in the driver standings and clinched a spot in the Chase after the Aug. 25 race at Bristol.
Earnhardt says: “I like short tracks. Richmond has been a good one for us for a couple of races.  I have always enjoyed running there, and it’s a fun track. It’s not your typical short track with the way the front straightaway is. It definitely makes each corner unique from the other and the way you drive the track can change throughout the race. It’s a lot of fun for a driver.”