Sparta, Ky. • The questions during NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying Friday were how many drivers would raise Kentucky Speedway’s record and by how much.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. provided the answer of the eight who broke it, clocking 183.636 mph to wrest the mark from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and the pole for Saturday night’s race.
Earnhardt’s speed was nearly 2 mph faster than Johnson’s 181.818 mph last June, which he needed to keep Johnson from keeping the record. Minutes before, Johnson had a lap at 183.144 mph to hold off Ryan Newman (182.254). Earnhardt set the standard in the No. 88 Chevy soon after and survived several furious attempts to unseat him before coming away with his 12th career pole and first at Kentucky.
Carl Edwards (183.306 mph) eventually grabbed the outside front in the No. 99 Ford. Johnson settled for third with Kyle Busch (182.593) fourth in a Toyota.
Marcos Ambrose (182.587) qualified fifth in a Ford and will start alongside Denny Hamlin, whose No. 11 Toyota ran 182.340 mph. The final two over 182 mph were Newman and defending race winner and Cup champion Brad Keselowski (182.192).
“I thought we had a good car in practice,” Earnhardt said, “and we got some cloud cover. That gave us an opportunity to run a good lap.”
Drivers felt as if a track record was possible with NASCAR’s new Gen 6 car, even on Kentucky’s bumpy surface. Anticipation grew even more with cooler-than-expected temperatures and intermittent clouds, and several drivers gave chase to Johnson’s mark early in the session.
Sprint Cup Quaker State 400
O Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
TV • TNT