NASCAR’s favorite son took another step towards writing an unbelievable story at Talladega Saturday. In his final race as a fulltime Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will lead the field to the green for Sunday’s Alabama 500.
Earnhardt led the first round of the two rounds of qualifying then backed that up in the final round. To the roar of the Earnhardt friendly crowd, Earnhardt put down a lap of 20.256 seconds, 190.544 mph around the 2.66-mile track to secure the 15th pole of his storied career and his second of the season, the other coming at the last restrictor plate race at Daytona in July.
“We’ve been fighting our teammate, Chase (Elliott) and his group for poles at these tracks for a long time,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been a lot of fun to be honest with you, how these two teams have pushed and elevated each other. Really, all the credit for getting a pole at a place like this goes to the team and goes to the car and the guys that work on it, the engine, the body men; we’ve got an amazing staff back at Charlotte that builds some awesome stuff. I just hold the wheel straight and try not to bounce into the apron, but get as close to it as you can and make sure you run a clean lap. But there ain’t much to it as a driver.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the Talladega pole for Earnhardt is his first at the track where he has won six times.
“This place has meant a lot to me,” Earnhardt said. “It’s awesome to hear those fans happy for us and hopefully we’re going to give them a lot more to cheer about before this weekend is over.”
Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott will start on the front row in second, marking the sixth time Hendrick will lead the field from the front.
“Congrats to Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) and the No. 88 team,” Elliott said. “They do a good job. Our team does great with this stuff. We definitely have a knack for it. We just hope that we can run good tomorrow and it lasts over the long haul. As hot as it is down here I think it’s going to be pretty important and we’ll try to finish this thing. We’ll see.”
Defending race winner Joey Logano will start third, followed by Kurt Busch, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who won here in the spring rounding out the top five.
Another surprise was the lack of Toyotas inside the top 12. The dominate manufacturer for most of the season failed to put a single one of its cars in the final round. Seven of the top 12 were Playoff contenders, but none were Toyotas.
“You know it’s superspeedway qualifying, you know we never seem to like as an organization and manufacturer – just been a little bit off on superspeedway qualifying, but we obviously race pretty decent,” Toyota driver Denny Hamlin, who will start 15th said. “It looks like the Fords are pretty strong, so we’ll have to race those guys tomorrow and we’ll just kind of see how we all stack up. But overall everything was smooth and pretty easy day.”
The other Playoff drivers starting outside the top 12: Kyle Busch starts, 16th, Jamie McMurray 17th, Matt Kenseth 19th, Martin Truex Jr. 21st, and Kevin Harvick 22nd.
Up front Clint Bowyer will start sixth, Jimmie Johnson seventh, followed by Ryan Blaney, Trevor Bayne, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson in the top 12.
With 40 teams entered, no one was sent home.
Earnhardt’s Talladega story will have a storybook ending should he cap off the weekend with a win. October 15th is the date his late father won his final NASCAR race in the year 2000.
“You think about that every time you suit-up and get in the car, you imagine if that’s going to be the day you get a win,” Earnhardt said. “But, this would be a real important one if we could win for all the fans, all year long, we certainly owe them a win and it would be great to get them one on Sunday.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway will get the green flag just after 2:00 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on NBC.