Jeff Gordon was the surprise of the field Saturday putting down a track record lap of late in the final session of knockout qualifying to win the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.
Gordon made a lap of 1:08:26 129.466 miles per hour on the 2.45 mile road course late in the second of two knockout sessions besting a lap put down by Marcos Ambrose earlier. Ambrose had put down a record lap in the first session of 1:08:13, 129.491 mile per hour. The pole was Gordon’s third at Watkins Glen the last one coming in 2007.
“Oh gosh, I am so proud of this pole,” said Gordon who has three wins here the last in 2001. “Qualifying has really been what has been hurting us a Watkins Glen, and I blame myself really.”
The pole was also the first of the season for Gordon; it keeps alive a streak of 22 years in the Sprint Cup series where the Hendrick Motorsports driver has won at least one pole.
“The first lap I did okay, but I got held up a little coming back to the checkered,” Gordon said. “The second one was a really good lap and got us into the top-12. I just tried to do the same things in that last lap. Alan (Gustafson crew chief) made a slight adjustment. I thought it was about the same as what I ran before, I didn’t think it was going to be that much better. Wow what a lap.”
Ambrose led the first session followed by Kevin Harvick and AJ Allmendinger. While the top spot was never in contention thanks to the record lap by Ambrose it was fast and furious for the 12th and final transfer spot. Tony Stewart held the spot until a final lap by Joey Logano put him in 11th and knocked Stewart out.
Ambrose quickly took to the track when the time started for the final round and held the top spot for nearly five minutes with a lap of 1:08:29 until Gordon’s lap with just over five minutes to go. Ambrose will start second Sunday, followed by Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, Harvick will start fourth, Kurt Busch fifth.
“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 will roll off sixth, Earnhardt Jr. seventh, with Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman rounding out the top 10.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series Cheez-It 355 gets underway at 1:00 p.m. Sunday with coverage on ESPN.