Jeff Gordon wasn't just fast on Friday as he won the pole for this Sunday's Pure Michigan 400; he was historically fast. His qualifying lap of 206.558 miles per hour is the seventh-fastest in Sprint Cup history, per NASCAR Stats:
Track records have been falling left and right all season. According to NASCAR.com, this is the 17th time in 2014 alone that a driver has broken a track's previous best for fastest lap. Gordon is the second driver to break a track record at the Michigan International Speedway, per USA Today's Nate Ryan:
Jeff Gordon wins the pole at Michigan with a 206-558 mph lap. Breaks the previous mark of Kevin Harvick (204.557 mph set in June). #nascar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) August 15, 2014
Gordon was a man of few words after qualifying.
"That thing stuck so well," he said about his car, per Ryan. "That makes it fun."
Gordon now has 76 poles to his credit throughout his illustrious career, including two in 2014.
Heading into Sunday, he sits fourth in the points standings. His two wins all but assure him a place in the final Chase for the Sprint Cup. With a trip to Victory Lane, Gordon would almost certainly vault to first in the standings, so he won't be taking it easy simply because he's qualified for the Chase.
In 43 trips to Michigan, Gordon has won twice and finished in the top five on 18 occasions. If he doesn't end up in Victory Lane, he'll very likely hover near the leader.
Below are the top-10 qualifiers from Friday. You can view the full lineup on NASCAR.com.
|Pos.||Driver||Best Speed||Best Time||Behind|
|10||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||204.174||35.264||-0.407|
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who does sit atop the points standings, struggled early in the day, eventually qualifying in 25th. He narrowly missed out on making it through to the second round:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. now just outside the bubble -- 25th. Top 24 advance to round 2. 1 minute left. #NASCAR— NASCAR Stats (@NASCARStats) August 15, 2014
Despite the disappointing performance, Junior did find solace in that his car should be much better prepared for Sunday:
The rear grip wasn't there this afternoon. Poor qual effort, but race trim felt good this morning. #NoWorries— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) August 15, 2014
Pit crews set up the cars differently between qualifying and the race itself. Producing the fastest lap possible doesn't demand the same kind of tweaks that running consistently over a sustained period of time demands on race day.
Don't be surprised if Earnhardt creeps his way up the leaderboard during the Pure Michigan 400 and challenges for the lead.
While Junior is sitting pretty in the standings, both Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer are precariously perched in 15th and 16th, respectively. Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle are lurking right below the Chase cutoff, threatening to knock the aforementioned duo out of a Chase place.
Neither looked great in qualifying with Larson finishing 13th and Bowyer taking 19th. As a result, earning that coveted first victory of the year may be out of the question for both drivers. In the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan in June, they did finish in the top 10, though, with Larson in eighth and Bowyer in 10th.
The former has only run on the track once on the Sprint Cup Series, while the latter has run 17 times on the Michigan International Speedway, finishing as high as fifth in 2013.
Another driver looking for his first win in 2014 is Matt Kenseth. He's been one of the most consistent Sprint Cup drivers this year but remains without a win. Like the other Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, the No. 20 car couldn't get into an early groove:
Starting lineup for Sunday's #NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Michigan: Kenseth 18th, Hamlin 21st, Busch 24th.— Boris for JGR (@JoeGibbsRacing) August 15, 2014
Kenseth has raced 30 times at Michigan, winning twice. The bad news is that his last victory came in 2006, and in three races under the JGR banner, he's finished no higher than sixth.
That first checkered flag may have to wait another week.
The green flag drops on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. Coverage begins at noon on ESPN.