Talladega, Ala. — Jeff Gordon led a Hendrick Motorsports rout in qualifying Saturday to win the pole for his final race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Gordon led teammates Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson in a sweep of the top three starting spots for the race Sunday. Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified fifth to put the four Hendrick drivers in the first three rows at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
It was the best outcome for Gordon and Earnnhardt, the only two Hendrick drivers still in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. Both need strong runs — Earnhardt may actually need a victory — to advance into the third round of the playoffs.
Four drivers will be cut from the Chase field following the race. Gordon is seventh in the standings, while Earnhardt is 11th in the 12-driver field. Both drivers are six-time winners at Talladega, and Earnhardt won the spring race here.
“It is good enough,” Earnhardt said about his starting position. “Some of the guys had a little more speed, but we feel like our car is going to race really well and just ready to go.”
Matt Kenseth, who is last in the Chase field, qualified fourth. Like Earnhardt, he likely needs to win Sunday to move into the third round.
“One thing about Talladega is you always have to expect the unexpected, so who knows what’s going to happen,” Kenseth said. “Just anxious to get lined up for the race and see what happens.”
Chase driver Martin Truex Jr. had his time thrown out by NASCAR as penalty for driving below the yellow line on the racetrack during his qualifying lap. Truex said he was unaware the rule — enforced during plate races — had been implemented for qualifying, too.
“Apparently there was a memo sent out, and I never got it,” Truex said.
He’ll start last in the 43-car field, but wasn’t worried.
“We started in the back last time, too. We’ll be fine,” Truex said of the spring race in which he started 36th but finished fifth.
There was a bizarre mishap on pit road when NASCAR gave Clint Bowyer the signal to begin his lap. He revved his engine and unbeknownst to him, his car was in reverse and backed hard into Justin Allgaier’s car.
Allgaier’s car suffered enough damage that his crew had to make quick repairs to get him on track for his qualifying attempt, but will need to work on the Chevrolet some more to get it fixed to race Sunday.
Bowyer said it was the “strangest” thing he’d ever been part of in racing, and felt terrible for Allgaier and HScott Motorsports, the team Bowyer will drive for next season.
“Obviously it was in reverse,” Bowyer said. “As soon as I let the clutch out, it was going the wrong way. I feel really, really bad. This is supposed to be an uneventful day, I just made it eventful.”
Gordon, meanwhile, continued his domination in qualifying at restrictor-plate races this season. He won the pole at three of the four plate races this year. The one miss? At Daytona in July, when qualifying was rained out.
He heaped praise on the engine shop at Hendrick Motorsports for the effort put into the plate races, where horsepower is so important.
“Everybody is contributing to make this happen, that is why we are 1-2-3 and 5,” he said. “It’s a great day for Hendrick Motorsports.”
Gordon, who is retiring at the end of the season, is eager to get this final Talladega race behind him. Although he’s been very good over the course of his career at Daytona and Talladega, he doesn’t enjoy the white-knuckle racing that often leads to multi-car accidents.
NASCAR this week said it will make only one attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish — all other events get three attempts to finish the race under green — in an effort to maintain safety standards during the frantic push to the checkered flag. Austin Dillon’s car sailed into the fence on the last lap at Daytona in July, and NASCAR doesn’t want to give drivers unnecessary opportunities to be aggressive.
Gordon applauded the move, which was used in Saturday’s Truck Series race when there was just one attempt to finish the event and it ended under caution.
“There is a balance between the excitement and entertainment to give the fans what they came here for and putting drivers at risk,” Gordon said. “If anyone in this (media) room rode inside one of these cars on a green-white-checkered, there’s no doubt in my mind that every single one of you would say they really shouldn’t do that. It’s insane. If anyone in the garage says it’s not, then they’re not telling the truth. You’re holding your breath.
“It can make for some amazing moments and highlights. I don’t know if you need to put any added risk out there to do more than one.”
Peters wins Trucks
Timothy Peters won the Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway for the second consecutive year.
Peters was second on the final restart Saturday after a multi-truck accident caused a stoppage of 15 minutes for the track to be cleaned. Brandon Jones got a terrific jump as the leader but he pulled too far away from the line of trucks behind him in the bottom lane.
It allowed Peters, in the top lane, to catch Jones and pull past Jones for the lead. Then Spencer Gallagher tried to duck down and attempt to pass Peters, but he was hooked by John Wes Townley to bring out a race-ending caution.
NASCAR said this week it would only make one attempt to finish both the truck race and the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday under green, which didn’t bother Peters at all.
“It was still intense, I wasn’t going to celebrate until I saw the checkered flag and the truck was completely across the line,” Peters said. “It really was no different with one (green-white-checkered flag) attempt versus three. Everybody was maybe a tad more aggressive.”
Peters became the third driver in series history to win consecutive races at Talladega, joining Todd Bodine (2007, 2008) and Kyle Busch (2009, 2010).
Jones finished second and was followed by Mason Mingus, Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick.
Erik Jones, who began the day with a four-point lead in the series standings over Matt Crafton, now leads Reddick by 18 points.
Crafton, the two-time defending series champion, dropped to third in the standings after multiple issues in the race. He also was included in the late wreck and finished 24th. There are four races left this season and Crafton now trails Erik Jones by 23 points.
Brian Keselowski made his Truck Series debut driving for younger brother Brad Keselowski and had a shot at the win until he ran out of gas as the field was headed to the overtime green-white-checkered restart. He was third at the time, but had led 11 laps and was in contention for the win the entire race.
He wound up a disappointing 17th.
“I’m emotional,” he said. “I’m really proud of how we ran. I’m disappointed that it was probably my only chance. We’ll see how it works out.”
Rain pushes GP qualifying to Sunday
Lewis Hamilton slipped and skidded around the Circuit of the Americas, then retreated to the Mercedes garage.
That’s where he could stay dry, watch the weather radar and plan for what he hopes will be a final charge to the Formula One championship at the United States Grand Prix at Austin, Texas.
Hamilton posted the fastest time in Saturday’s final practice session as another day of harsh weather pounded the track with torrential rain. Then he and other drivers waited through a three-hour delay before race officials postponed qualifying until a rare Sunday morning session before the scheduled afternoon race.
For Hamilton, that means not knowing yet if he’ll start from pole position on the track where he has won two of the last three years. Another win Sunday could clinch his second world title in two years and third overall.
“Hopefully, the weather will back off a bit,” Hamilton said “Let’s hope for a better day. Sunshine would be great.”
Sunday will be just the fourth time since 2004 and first since 2013 that Formula One has used race-day qualifying.
The 30-year-old Hamilton won his first world championship in 2008 driving for McLaren. His recent domination with Mercedes already has claimed 20 victories and nine other podium finishes the past two years with four races left this season.
Hamilton has a 66-point lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the driver standings. He’ll win the championship if he outscores Vettel by nine points and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by two.
Vettel posted the second-fastest time in Saturday’s soggy practice. But while still mathematically in the title hunt with four races left, his chances of pushing it to Mexico City next week took a hit when Ferrari fitted his car with a fifth engine, one over the season limit. That drew a 10-spot grid penalty for Sunday’s start.