Gordon wins pole at Charlotte

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Jeff Gordon is feeling rejuvenated as the NASCAR Sprint Cup season winds down.

Gordon carried over a strong performance in Kansas last weekend to Thursday night by winning the pole for the race Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Gordon, who is fourth in the Chase standings, said it’s been a frustrating season but he’s feeling better with each passing race.

“I feel like we knocked it out of the park tonight,” Gordon said.

Gordon turned a lap at 194.308 mph to edge Kevin Harvick for his ninth pole at Charlotte, tied for the second most in track history.

Greg Biffle qualified third for the Saturday night race, Jimmie Johnson was fourth, and Kasey Kahne — who held the pole for most of the night — will start fifth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrated his 39th birthday by qualifying sixth for his 500th Sprint Cup start. Ryan Newman was seventh, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch.

Gordon was upbeat after the qualifying, saying things are finally starting to mesh for the No. 24 Chevrolet team.

“The thing is it’s really hard to maintain your confidence in what you’re doing when you’re struggling,” Gordon said. “I felt like all year long we have been racing better than we have been qualifying, but that qualifying was a weakness for us and we needed to get better track position. It’s hard not to get down when things aren’t going well. ... It’s hard to come in here all bubbly and having fun, because honestly it wasn’t fun.”

The 42-year-old Gordon hasn’t won a race on the Sprint Cup series this year, but believes he’s going to need to win one to have a legitimate shot at winning is fifth Cup championship.

Gordon enters the weekend 32 points behind leader Matt Kenseth with six races left. Kenseth qualified 20th.

“This will be one of our worst qualifying efforts of the year so we have a lot of work to do,” Kenseth said.

Kahne was hoping Thursday night would give his team momentum after what has been a disappointing showing so far in the Chase. He enters the weekend in 13th place, 83 points behind Kenseth.

For a while it looked like his early lap would hold up.

But then a series of drivers eclipsed his time, capped finally by Gordon, who had the last car on the track.

“There were a lot of good cars at the end of the session and that kept leading up to things getting faster and faster,” Harvick said.

Gordon called it “the most exciting qualifying pole ever.”

Harvick said he would have been happy starting on the outside row had he not won from the pole last week at Kansas.

“Obviously we wanted to be greedy and get that again tonight,” Harvick said. “But it’s been nice to see the speed. It seems like everybody is able to find a little more and dig deeper when it is Chase time.”

Kyle Larson, making his Sprint Cup debut in Phoenix Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet, qualified 21st.

Johnson, who has had incredible success at Charlotte, is hoping for a good finish to jump ahead of Kenseth. Johnson enters the weekend three points behind Kenseth.

Travis Kvapil qualified 41st one day after being released from police custody on $2,000 bond. He was arrested Tuesday and charged with misdemeanor assault on a female and false imprisonment.

“I’m obviously embarrassed about the situation,” Kvapil said. “I don’t like the negative effects that it has brought on. So I apologize to NASCAR, my team, supporters of my team, my fans and anyone else that was impacted by Tuesday night.”

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