Dover, Del. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start on the pole for Sunday’s AAA 400 after setting a new track qualifying record at Dover International Speedway.
Earnhardt, who is presently 11th in the championship Chase standings, turned a lap at 161.849 mph during Friday’s qualifying. He claimed his second pole of the season and the 13th of his Sprint Cup Series career. It’s also his first pole in 28 races at Dover.
“The car had really good speed, and it had a really good balance right off the trailer,” Earnhardt said. “It felt like we were really competitive, more so than we’ve been here in the past, especially in practice. When we put the car into qualifying trim and made a couple mock runs, it showed really good speed. It wasn’t quite the fastest car, but the way it drove was relatively easy.”
Earnhardt’s last win came in June 2012 at Michigan (47 races ago). His lone victory at Dover occurred in September 2001. Earnhardt started the Chase with a 35th-place finish at Chicagoland but rebounded last Sunday with a sixth- place run at New Hampshire.
“We’re going to try to win some races before the year is out,” he said. “I would be really disappointed if we don’t win a race this season, because I think we’re a little bit of a better team than we were last year.”
Matt Kenseth, the current points leader and winner of the first two Chase races, will share the front row with Earnhardt after posting a lap at 161.805 mph.
“I’m excited about the car that everybody at (Joe Gibbs Racing) built me and these guys prepared and brought to the track today,” Kenseth said. “It seems to have obviously a lot of speed. It seems to drive pretty good, so I’m excited to get on track tomorrow (final practice) and try to get it dialed in and go racing on Sunday.”
Ryan Newman qualified third, followed by Carl Edwards, Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski, who won this race one year ago. Newman and Edwards are in the Chase. The top-six finishers in qualifying surpassed the previous track record of 161.522 mph, set by Jeremy Mayfield in June 2004.
Jamie McMurray took the seventh position, while Chase drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch were eighth and ninth, respectively. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top-10.
The remaining Chase drivers and their starting positions include: Joey Logano (11th), Kevin Harvick (12th), Kyle Busch (14th), Jeff Gordon (16th), Greg Biffle (19th), Kasey Kahne (20th) and Clint Bowyer (23rd).
Kenseth enters the third event in the Chase with a 14th point lead over Kyle Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, and an 18-point advantage over Johnson, the five-time series champion and winner of seven races at Dover.
All 43 drivers in qualifying made the starting field for Sunday’s 400-mile race at Dover, which is scheduled to begin just after 11 a.m. PT.