TALLADEGA, Ala. — Despite a stellar record of race finishes at Talladega Superspeedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had never won a pole at NASCAR’s longest race track coming into the Alabama 500 race weekend.
However, NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver made his final qualifying attempt at the track his most memorable one, finally scoring his first-career Coors Light Pole Award at Talladega on Saturday afternoon, ahead of his final appearance at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
Earnhardt outran Hendrick Motorsports teammate teammate Chase Elliott in the second and final round of knockout qualifying, grabbing the top spot with a time of 50.256 seconds (190.544 mph) in the No. 88 Mountain Dew Chevrolet.
The pole was the 15th of Earnhardt’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career and his second of the season, following a pole effort at Daytona Int’l Speedway in July.
“We’ve been fighting Chase, Alan (Gustafson) and his group for poles at this track for a long time, and it’s been a lot of fun how our two teams have pushed and elevated each other,” said Elliott. “Really, all the credit for getting the pole at a place like this goes to the team, the car, the guys who work on it and the engine.”
“We’ve got an amazing staff back in Charlotte that builds some awesome stuff. I just hold the wheel straight, try not to bounce into the apron, but get as close to it as you can.”
Earnhardt looks to go out with one final Talladega win not only for himself, but for his legion of fans at the track.
“This would be a real important one if we could win, for all the fans that have supported us all year long,” Earnhardt said. “We certainly owe them a win, and it’d be great to get them one Sunday.”
Elliott will start alongside Earnhardt on the front row Sunday, after the No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet ran a time of 50.291 seconds (190.412 mph), moving up from the third spot in the first round and completing a front row sweep for Hendrick Motorsports.
“Our team does great with this stuff, and we definitely have a knack for it,” Elliott said of his team’s efforts at superspeedway qualifying. “We just hope we can run good tomorrow and that it lasts for the long haul, as hot as it is down here. I think it’s going to be important, and we’ll try to finish this thing.”
The fans roared when Earnhardt first took to the track, setting the fastest time in the first round over Joey Logano’s Penske Racing Ford. Logano fell to third in the final round, setting a time of 50.301 (190.374 mph).
Before the final round of qualifying, Logano felt extremely confident in his car despite not being a playoff contender.
“I get to be aggressive and make the big moves out there and I’m racing with nothing to lose,” Logano said of his mentality going into Sunday’s race. “If we’ve got a fast Shell-Pennzoil Ford like we do there, hopefully we can race well and stay up front and try to win this thing again.”
Two more Ford drivers in Kurt Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the defending Talladega winner, completed the top five.
Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Trevor Bayne, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson completed the dozen drivers who made the final round of qualifying.
Daniel Suarez was the fastest Toyota driver in a rough showing for the manufacturer, putting his No. 19 Camping World Toyota 14th on the grid for Sunday’s Alabama 500.
Round one also saw half of the 12 playoff drivers miss the cut line into the final round, including Denny Hamlin, who starts 15th on Sunday.
Kyle Busch (16th), Jamie McMurray (17th), Matt Kenseth (19th), Martin Truex Jr. (21st) and Kevin Harvick (22nd) were the other playoff contenders eliminated in the first round.
Coverage for the Alabama 500 begins at 1:30 p.m. ET, live on NBC, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
Full qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…