DOVER, Del. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. can pick up his pursuit of Matt Kenseth from out front.
Earnhardt showed a rare burst of top qualifying speed, turning a track-record lap of 161.849 mph to win the pole Friday at Dover International Speedway. Earnhardt won his second pole of the season, the first time he has multiple poles since 2002.
Chase for the Sprint Cup championship drivers filled the top four spots and eight of the top 12. Kenseth, the points leader and winner of the first two Chase races, joins Earnhardt on the front row. Ryan Newman is third and Carl Edwards fourth.
Earnhardt's run marked the 17th time this season drivers have set qualifying records in the new Gen-6 car. Earnhardt is in 11th place in the 13-driver field. He's not out of it, but certainly not a legitimate championship contender. He needs a hot streak in the No. 88 Chevrolet — and for Kenseth and the rest of field to considerably cool.
With that option pretty much a long shot, Earnhardt is determined to win at least one race this season. "I'd be really disappointed if we don't win a race this season, because I think we're a better team than we were last year," he said. "We came close so many times. We'd just like to go out there and get some trophies."
No driver has been able to wrest the trophies — or a lobster — away from Kenseth. His series-high seven wins, including Chase victories at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, have made Kenseth the favorite to win a second Cup championship. Even Kenseth can't explain his roll since he joined Joe Gibbs Racing.
"I don't think I've ever been on one quite like this," he said. "I've been enjoying it. You never know what it's going to end." Earnhardt and Kenseth will try and keep the rest of the Chase field behind them.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson starts eighth, Kurt Busch is ninth, Joey Logano 11th, Kevin Harvick 12th, Kyle Busch 14th, Jeff Gordon 16th, Greg Biffle 19th, Kasey Kahne 20th, and Clint Bowyer starts 23rd.
Bowyer got the news he wanted since the Richmond scandal when sponsor 5-Hour Energy decided to stick with embattled Michael Waltrip Racing through the 2014 season. Martin Truex Jr., his MWR teammate, is still waiting to find out where he'll drive next season. Truex faces an uncertain future after NAPA Auto Parts yanked its sponsorship at the end of the season in the aftermath of MWR's decision to manipulate the outcome of the Sept. 9 race at Richmond.
Furniture Row Racing is in the mix for Truex after losing Kurt Busch to Stewart-Haas Racing. General manager Joe Garone said the organization had expressed interest in the veteran driver. "We just need to be patient and see how things shake out," Garone said.
Truex, who found out he likely won't need surgery on his broken right wrist, is antsy for a resolution. "It's a lot more complicated because of time," he said. "There's no, well, wait a few weeks and talk to these people and see what they're thinking. There is no slow-planning anything. It's, now, now, now. I need answers so I can make decisions. That's the most difficult thing, putting people in positions where they've got to make decisions they're not sure about. I imagine when something happens, it will happen quick."
NASCAR's credibility was called into question after Richmond, and chairman Brian France ordered drivers to give 100 percent in new rules prohibiting the artificial altering of events. Drivers have poked fun at the "100 percent" edict the last two weeks.
Asked if the track was simply quick for his qualifying run, Newman laughed and said, "No, I just tried harder." One hundred percent? "Actually, I was 118 percent that time," he said.