Kasey Kahne turned a lap at 191.455 mph during Saturday’s qualifying session, good enough to put the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole for today’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.
“Hendrick really puts an emphasis on these plate tracks and that really shows,” Kahne said. “I have never been anywhere before where that was really the case.”
The pole is the 25th of Kahne’s career, and his third of 2012. It also was his first pole at a restrictor plate track, and he comes into today looking for his first plate victory.
Kahne hopes to fare better today than in the first two races where he sat on the pole, which both produced disappointing finishes, though no track is more wide-open than Talladega.
“The pole just means I am starting first,” Kahne said. “That’s about it. I am going to try to lead that first lap to get that extra bonus point. It’s all about getting as many points as possible. We need to race and race hard. We have to make points up.”
Kahne enters today’s race in sixth place in Cup points, 25 out of the lead.
Ryan Newman will start second in his Stewart-Haas Chevy. Clint Bowyer, who comes into today’s race fourth in Cup points, will start fourth in the No. 15 Toyota, and that strong showing changed his strategy for today.
“I am blown-away shocked that we were top-three,” Bowyer said. “We haven’t been qualifying very good at restrictor plate races, and today is caught me off-guard. Going into today my whole plan for the weekend was I kind of figured that we were going to qualify poorly and ride around the back. We’re in the front, and I’m going to try to stay there.”
The better-than-expected run for Bowyer might spell trouble for the rest of the field, as he has won the last two fall races at Talladega.
Greg Biffle, 11th in points after a disappointing start to the Chase, was the fastest Ford, and he will roll off fifth today.
“We thought we would be a little faster than that,” Biffle said. “There’s really not a lot of pressure on us at this point, so we’ll just go out there and run hard and try to get a good finish. We are pretty far back there (in the points).”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was fastest in final practice Friday, will start 12th today.
Not all the Chasers will be starting near the front. Jimmie Johnson, who sits second in points, was among the first cars to hit the track in Saturday’s session — a result of his practice performance Friday — and will start from 17th place today.
“We went out so early, it’s hard for me to tell how that’s going to stack up,” Johnson said. “I know (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) hoped that we’d run a little quicker, but like a lot of big teams — especially the ones racing for the championship — you don’t take a lot of risk in qualifying.”
Other Chasers starting deep in the field include Kevin Harvick (21st), points leader Brad Keslowski (22nd) and Denny Hamlin (23rd).
Keslowski, a two-time Talladega winner who won here in the spring, couldn’t care less about his lackluster qualifying spot.
“I think we’ve proven that the only lap that matter is the last one,” Keselowski said. “You have to stay out of trouble, be solid on pit road and put yourself in a position to make a run at the end. We’ll see how it plays out.”