Gordon Wins Watkins Glen Pole

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon earned his first pole at Watkins Glen since 2003 on Saturday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Starting Lineup

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - As Jeff Gordon talked his family Saturday morning on the phone, he had a special message for son Leo, who was celebrating his fourth birthday.

“I’m going to try to get you that pole,’’ Gordon said.

Even Gordon admits he wasn’t sure he could follow through but “said it anyway.’’

He gave Leo that pole - Gordon’s first at Watkins Glen since 2003 - with a lap of 129.466 mph.

“I really can’t wait to talk to him,’’ Gordon said after earning his first pole of the season.

Marcos Ambrose, who needs a win to make the Chase, starts second. Jimmie Johnson is third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. AJ Allmendinger, also needing a win to make the Chase, starts sixth. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won last weekend at Pocono, is seventh.

Beyond winning the pole on his son’s birthday, the effort meant even more for Gordon, who has not been as much a factor in recent years at this track.

“Watkins Glen has kind of been a target on our radar because we’ve run so poorly here recently,’’ Gordon said after his 75th career NASCAR Sprint Cup pole. “You start to lose confidence in what you’re doing. Your team loses confidence in their car and you get off track and lost a little bit. That’s the way it’s been for us the last few times we’ve been here, the last several times.

“With the type of racecars we’ve been bringing to the track this year, we had hoped with all the effort we’ve put into it that it would pay off for us.’’

Gordon said his car was fast in race trim during Friday’s practice but not as fast with the qualifying setup, leaving the team “pretty concerned.’’ A few changes resolved that but then came issues in qualifying.

With few places to get out of the way, cars on their qualifying lap often were approaching cars slowing after completing their lap. Gordon said his first attempt in the first round was slowed by a car that had completed its lap and was in his way. Others had issues as well. Carl Edwards was slow and it affected one of Kyle Larson’s lap. Kevin Harvick ran up on Kyle Busch as Busch slowed on the course, impacting one of Harvick’s lap in the first round. Harvick’s spotter later said took the blame for that.

Traffic wasn’t an issue in the final round and Ambrose earned his best starting spot of the season.

“I wish Jeff was a little kinder to me to let me get the pole,’’ Ambrose said. “I thought we had it at the end but it wasn’t enough. It was a pretty good lap though and I will take it. You have to be happy with front row starts.’’

Allmendinger, a road racer who will be among those to watch Sunday, was disappointed with his qualifying effort despite starting in the top 10.

“I just never hit a lap,’’ he said. “Just disappointed with myself.’’

Earnhardt, who earned his best starting spot at Watkins Glen since qualifying second in 2008, had mixed emotions with his run.

“Real happy we are happy with how the car has got real good speed,’’ he said. “I was real disappointed because we lost all our brakes on that last run. They cooked in between the sessions and didn’t have a brake pedal on any of the straightaways and really had to do a lot of pumping on the brakes. ‘’

Also, week after tying his career-best finish of 16th at Pocono, Justin Allgaier earned his career-best starting spot at 15th.

“When you can drive a race car like this and you can go out there and have that much fun it’s definitely a good day,’’ he said.

None had it better than Gordon and his son Leo.

Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen starting at noon (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.

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