Earnhardt Jr. wins Atlanta pole with 192 mph lap
Dale Earnhardt Jr. notched his first NASCAR Sprint Cup pole since 2008 with a record setting pace in Friday night’s qualifying session for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt posted a top speed of 192.761 mph in the no. 88 Amp Chevrolet, clocking the fastest qualifying speed ever for a Sprint Cup car in the Car of Tomorrow era, besting the previous record of 192.376 mph set at Charlotte Motor Speedway last October.
Earnhardt was the 17th driver to take to the track in the chilly early evening session, knocking Kyle Busch off the top spot to claim his ninth career pole.
Busch held onto the outside pole with a top speed of 192.280 mph in the no. 18 Toyota, followed by the Chevy of Juan Pablo Montoya with a speed of 192.196 mph.
Chevy pilots Mark Martin (191.814 mph) and Jeff Gordon (191.774 mph) rounded out the top five, giving Hendrick Motorsports three of the top five qualifying slots.
Friday’s top speed was Earnhardt’s first pole since Texas in April of 2008 – a 68 race drought – and his best start at Atlanta since taking the pole in November of 2001.
“The car drove good, it was there for us,” said Earnhardt, Jr. “Our car was pretty good in practice, we just needed to get a little bit better. And we just need to hit that perfect lap.
“There are a lot of cars out there that are fast and able to run good. You've just got to hit the marks and everything and the car was there. We knew that the time of day would be a little bit different.”
After finishing second in the season opening Daytona 500 and qualifying fourth for last weekend’s race at Las Vegas, Earnhardt’s team is hoping to find more success to build on and help erase the memories of a dismal 2009 season.
“Just getting a pole anywhere for our team is good,” said Earnhardt. But we are just hungry, so hungry to do much better on Sunday. We qualified well at Vegas and we were pretty happy to be able to put ourselves in the middle of the company we were around up there in the top-10.
“To be able to do what we did tonight means a lot to us, but we are starving for a good finish and something like this to happen on Sunday for us. That is really all we can think about.”
Kyle Busch’s outside pole marks his best career Atlanta Motor Speedway start, hoping to match his victory in this same event in 2008.
“We got a good lap in,” said Busch. “I was real happy with the way it turned out when I was done qualifying and then a couple cars later we get beat but that’s just what happens sometimes.
“I felt really good about our lap. I got the most out of it that I felt I could get. Maybe there was a little more but really nothing that was a whole lot. Overall it was good.”
The previous fastest time for the new COT chassis came at last October at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile quad-oval track very similar to Atlanta.
Since being reconfigured in 1997, Atlanta has emerged as one of the fastest track on the Sprint Cup circuit, making it no surprise the track now holds the record for the fastest qualifying speed for a COT
“It's really, really fast,” said Earnhardt. “You've just got to hang on. I think there are a lot of cars out there that can run that fast. You've just got to hang on to it.
“We had a great engine, and obviously this track is a place where power is really going to show up.”
“It's actually crazy how fast it is,” said Montoya, who also posted his career-best starting spot. “It's nice to see and it's always a lot of fun when it's that fast.”
Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Elliott Sadler, David Reutimann and Carl Edwards rounded out the top ten.
Aric Almirola, Casey Mears and Terry Cook failed to qualify for the event.
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