Jeff Gordon still has it.
The 43-year-old continued his recent tear by winning the pole Saturday at Watkins Glen for the 2014 Cheez-It 355. Currently in position to win his fifth Sprint Cup Series championship, Gordon will start up front as he chases his second win in three races and a third straight top-10 finish.
It was his 75th Sprint Cup pole, and NASCAR on ESPN noted the all-time great has now extended his pole streak to 22 years:
Jeff Gordon wins the pole - he's now won a pole for 22 straight years; a Cup record. #NASCAR— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) August 9, 2014
Gordon himself took to Twitter shortly after winning the pole:
Riding in his Chevrolet, Gordon posted a time of 129.466 mph that only Marcos Ambrose (129.138) could get close to.
Here are the top 12 drivers who qualified. The complete list is available at NASCAR.com.
|Pos.||Driver||Best Speed||Best Time||Behind|
|7||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||128.186||68.806||-0.680|
Ambrose looked to be in position to win the pole early on. Not only did he come in with a ton of talk, with his only two career Sprint Cup victories coming at Watkins Glen, but he was also in pole position early in the final round of qualifying.
Gordon had only one run left, but it was all he needed. He reset the track record with his time, leaving no doubt that he would be the first driver to lead Sunday's race.
The 37-year-old Ambrose—like many others—thought Saturday's qualifying was his but gave Gordon the props he deserved, per Alan Cavanna of NASCAR.com:
Of course, Gordon and Ambrose are just where this race gets started as far as excitement goes.
Holding their positions for a single lap will prove to be a challenge for both drivers, especially with Jimmie Johnson at their backs. The six-time Sprint Cup champion hasn't been at his best recently, but now is the time he could rack up a few wins and regain his momentum.
The top 12 is simply loaded with big names after that. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will look to continue his resurgent season with a seventh-place start. Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch round out the top five, and both are trying to turn their seasons around.
Another name to keep an eye on is Brad Keselowski, who won last year's Nationwide event at Watkins Glen, as the race track's Twitter captured:
Keselowski will start in the ninth spot, but at third place currently in the Sprint Cup points standings, he could close the big gap between him and the two top dogs—Gordon and Earnhardt Jr.—with a win.
But any finish of his won't matter all that much in the standings if Gordon notches another win.
One of the sport's legends is hitting his stride at the right time and racing better than he has in years. After winning the Brickyard 400 and notching a sixth-place finish a week later in the GoBowling.com 400, the veteran is distancing himself further and further from the field by the race.
His success in qualifying has been no secret throughout his career, and he continues to rank among the all-time greats, per USA Today's Jeff Gluck:
All-time #NASCAR pole list: 1. Richard Petty -- 123 2. David Pearson -- 113 3. Jeff Gordon -- 75— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) August 9, 2014
He even promised his son a pole victory before surprising even himself by actually doing it, per NASCAR on ESPN:
"Today is Leo's birthday and I told him earlier I'd try to get the pole for him, not realistically thinking I'd get it," Gordon says #NASCAR— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) August 9, 2014
Gordon has been around the Sprint Cup circuit for quite some time, and that may even be an understatement. Spectacularly enough, winning it all this year would bridge a 19-year gap between his first championship (1995) and his last.
If the last month or two is any indication, however, Gordon is racing as well as any driver on the planet. The sport has boomed with star drivers and dozens capable of winning the title, but the 43-year-old is showing that experience still counts.
There's a long way to go between now and the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but nobody sits in a better position than Gordon as NASCAR's best descend upon Watkins Glen.