Gordon highest qualifier among bubble drivers
RICHMOND, Va. -- Kevin Harvick grabbed the pole Friday night for the NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Richmond International Raceway, but most of the attention was on drivers positioning themselves for a final shot at earning a berth in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
Heading into the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler are separated by just 62 points in the battle for the final two positions in the 10-man, 10-race playoff that begins next weekend in New Hampshire.
Other than the honor of winning the pole, most of the emphasis on qualifying is on gaining a good starting spot in order to choose a strategic pit for the race.
Harvick, well out of contention for the Chase in 15th place, got his pick of pits after his lap of 128.425 mph gave the Richard Childress Racing driver his fourth career pole and second of the season.
He was followed by Greg Biffle at 128.309, rookie Travis Kvapil at 128.163 -- giving him his best career start -- Mark Martin at 127.968 and Kurt Busch at 127.859. Biffle, Martin and defending Cup champion Busch have already clinched spots in the Chase.
Four-time series champion Gordon -- 12th, 30 points behind 10th-place McMurray -- did the best job among the quintet of contenders, qualifying sixth at 127.672.
"We have to make gains, but that's a good start," Gordon said. "It's a good way to start the weekend."
Newman, just one point behind McMurray, crashed in practice earlier Friday and had to use a backup car in qualifying. He got the last shot at knocking Harvick off the top spot, but NASCAR's top qualifier came up far short, taking the eighth spot in the 43-car field at 127.352.
"It was good, not great,: said Newman, who has won the most poles in each of his first three Cup seasons and leads again this year with five. "We'll just see if we can put 400 laps under us tomorrow night; that will be important. I think we have a good shot."
Matt Kenseth, in ninth place in the standings, just 10 points ahead of McMurray, was 13th Friday night at 127.238, with 13th-place Elliott Sadler 19th at 127.041 and McMurray -- who missed out on the inaugural Chase last year by just 15 points -- 32nd at 126.227.
"You always wish you'd go faster, but I was happy with it," said Kenseth, who has charged from 17th into the top 10 over the last three months. "I feel good going into the race. Obviously, anything can happen but, just based solely on performance, I feel good about our chances.
"Compared to the competition, I was pretty happy with the car -- the way it drove and what our speeds were."
On the other end of the spectrum, Sadler, in the Chase field a year ago but slumping of late, wasn't particularly happy with his qualifying effort.
"We did a few changes to the car, but we didn't go far enough," Sadler said. "We know what we've got to do tomorrow night. We just have to go ahead and try to do it."
Eighth-place Carl Edwards, who has all but clinched a spot in the Chase, leading McMurray by 86 points, qualified 18th.
"We just didn't want to make too many changes and mess anything up too much," Edwards said. "We'll be OK for the race."
Dale Jarrett, 14th and with only a slight mathematical shot at making the Chase, qualified ninth at 127.298, one of his best efforts this season.
"We've put ourselves in this position and we just have to go out and have a good race," the 1999 series champion said. "It's probably not going to be good enough, regardless of what happens, but we just need a good run for our sponsors and for these guys that work on this race team and for our car owner Robert Yates."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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