RICHMOND – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. captured his first pole of 2012, setting the fastest lap today at Richmond International Raceway (RIR) for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400.
Piloting the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, Earnhardt, Jr. circled the .75-mile track in 21.256-seconds/127.023 m.p.h. It is his first career pole at RIR, and the 11th of his career.
Team Chevy drivers captured four of the top-five starting positions for the 43-car field. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, will start alongside his teammate on the front row. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion turned-in the second fastest qualifying effort.
Regan Smith, No. 78 Furniture Row/Farm America Chevrolet, will roll off third for the 400-lap/300-mile race.
Five-time NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson will start the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet from the fifth spot on the grid.
Clint Bowyer (Toyota) completed the top-five qualifiers.
A total of 19 Chevrolet drivers will take the green flag Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET for the 26th race of the 2012 season, and the final race before the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, POLE WINNER: ON HIS LAP: “It feels good. I’ve not really been the best of qualifiers the last couple of years. We have a lot of improvements we’ve made this year. It feels good to get a pole.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS A WIN HERE TOMORROW NIGHT? “I think everybody wants to get the win to kick the Chase off, and go into the Chase with a lot of confidence. It’s a fun race track; we love running here. I think we’ll have a good car tomorrow.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 2ND: DID YOU GET EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR LAP AND THEN SOME? “I did in (turns) three and four. I got (turns) three and four great coming to the green (flag) and coming back to the white (flag). I just didn’t quite get through (turns) one and two the way I would have liked to. I actually got down to the yellow line a little bit earlier than I wanted to. I could have carried a little bit more speed in there. There is some speed left out there, but still a solid day for this Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. I love having Chase credit card services on board and all the support of this Drive To End Hunger program. We will just see where we end up. It has been a solid day, we have a good race car, from here on out we are guaranteed a top 10 spot and we will see where we end up.”
REGAN SMITH, NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW/FARM AMERICAN CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 3RD: YOU SAID THE SUN GOING INTO (TURN) THREE IS MAYBE THE BIGGEST ISSUE FOR GUYS RIGHT NOW? “Yeah, every time we come here and qualify it is that perfect time of the day where the sun is right in your eye. If anything I think that is going to be the biggest issue, but good lap for the Furniture Row Chevy. I was real happy with it. I didn’t quite get what I wanted that second lap, but the first lap was enough. We are proud of that. Hopefully it stays up in the top five somewhere. Nonetheless, these guys have been working really hard. The guys in the shop have been working really hard. Todd Barrier came on board a few weeks back with us and that has been a good change, a lot of excitement out of this team.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET- QUALIFIED 5TH: WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE THERE ON YOUR LAP? YOU NARROWLY MISSED THE POLE: “I can promise you it wasn’t from a lack of effort. I didn’t make my second lap because I was pinned on effort level there (laughs). Great lap, it’s hard to think that it’s going to stay up there in the top three being as early as it is. For the time of day good lap, picked up right around a second I guess from practice. Things feel good so we will get this Lowe’s Chevy dusted off and ready to go for tomorrow night.”
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 13TH: ON HIS QUALIFYING: “It was ok. The car was just too loose off the corner; couldn’t put the power down like I needed to. It is still not going to be a bad starting spot for us tomorrow night. We’ll take that and move on to the race.”
RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 39 QUICKEN LOANS CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 14TH: ON HIS QUALIFYING: “It was a decent lap for the Quicken Loans Chevrolet. I under-drove the first laps, and just didn’t get myself calibrated with what the grip level pickup was. That is my fault. But the car feels pretty good. Hopefully it stays top-10ish. A good team effort today.”
ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SPRING RACE AND THE FALL RACE: “The weather is the bigger difference. Depending on what you have; you can have a hot and humid day that rains in the spring. You could have the same thing today. The weather is probably the biggest question mark on what you expect grip wise out of the race track.”
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 24TH : “It was ok. I made a little mistake in one and two on that second lap. Got in a little too fast and lost a little bit of time. Our Target Chevy felt pretty good. I’m pretty happy. I think we have a pretty good race car.”
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 28TH: IT’S BEEN A FRUSTRATING DAY ON A VARIETY OF LEVELS. HOW DO YOU SUMMARIZE THE KIND OF DAY THAT YOU HAVE HAD TODAY AND THE IMPORTANCE OF IT AS YOU LOOK AHEAD TO TOMORROW? “The most political correct way is to say it has been frustrating. I don’t think we’ve got a bad race car when it comes to 15 laps into a run we’ve just got to get to that point. It’s not been a good day for putting up a big lap by any means. It is what got us in this position here. We will just keep battling with it and see what we can get.”