If you're in the hunt for a Chase spot, you really couldn't begin your Richmond weekend any better than Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski did on Friday afternoon. The three Chase hopefuls qualified first, second and third.
The pole marks Gordon's first of the year and 73rd of his career; he won it with a track-record 130.599 mph. He also won a pole for the 21st straight year, breaking a mark set by David Pearson. Busch, who currently holds the 10th and final automatic Chase spot, sits just six points ahead of Gordon.
“Track position is big," Gordon said. "So, did we make a statement? Yeah. But so did Kurt and Brad. I find it so fascinating. You come into this race and there’s all these guys that are all in this bubble or whatever you want to call it to make the Chase. And all of a sudden, they all just step up to another level and I think that makes for a really interesting conversation of what’s going to happen prior to the race, and when that green flag drops of what’s going to happen throughout the whole race.”
"We end up outside pole, which I think now that is, like you said, seven outside poles for us this year," Busch said. "One pole and a bunch of outside poles. I don’t know if that and a dollar bill gets you a Big Gulp."
The mathematical scenarios remaining for the final Chase spots are legion. Key in the breakdown is whether two-win Kasey Kahne, 10 points behind Busch, can work his way into the top If Kahne does so, then both Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman, with one win each, become near-locks to make the Chase unless Gordon, Busch or Keselowski win the race. If Kahne can't get up into the top 10, though, the final guaranteed spots remain very much up for grabs. Joey Logano and Greg Biffle, at 8th and 9th, are both within 10 points of falling out of the Chase, and in no way safe.
“I will be glad when tomorrow night is over," said Logano, who qualified 8th. "This is obviously a big weekend for us, and we got a decent qualifying effort here. We are in the top 10 and that is what we need to do, be in the top 10 all night long. That will get us top-10 in points and that will get us in the Chase."
"You get discouraged easily when you are not fast off the truck or you look at that board all day and you are 38th," Biffle said. He managed to make enough adjustments to start 9th.
Jimmie Johnson skipped qualifying because of the birth of his second daughter early Friday morning, and in his place Regan Smith qualified 10th.
Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five. Truex and Newman qualified 11th and 24th, respectively. Other notables included Kyle Busch at 13th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 14th, and Danica Patrick at 36th.
The Federated Auto Parts 400 starts at 7:30 on Saturday night.