NASCAR & Auto Racing

Gordon snags Dover pole; Mark Martin a close second

DOVER, Del. - Jeff Gordon's 2008 Sprint Cup season has been spent in pursuit of positives. So far, at least, that has been largely fruitless.

But Gordon did harvest something satisfying Friday at Dover International Speedway, running a lap at 157.061 mph to earn the pole for Sunday's Camping World RV 400.

"To me, it's about small victories," Gordon said after winning his third pole this season, his fourth Cup pole at Dover and the 66th No. 1 starting slot of his career. "We're still looking for a win and for any positives we can pull out of this season to get us back into this Chase."

Gordon finished 14th last week at New Hampshire as the Chase for the Sprint Cup began, leaving him 99 points behind co-leaders Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson with nine races left in the championship battle.

"We are not out of this championship race," said Gordon, a four-time Cup champion who had a title-worthy season in 2007 only to finish second to teammate Johnson. "We understand that. It's too early to count ourselves out and we're too good of a team. We'll never mentally give up."

Still, there's the nagging little issue of this season's realities.

Since Gordon got his first Cup win in 1994 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, he's won no fewer than two races in each of the past 14 seasons. Gordon, however, has gone 27 races without a win in 2008 and has not won since last October at Charlotte when he got his sixth of the season and the 81st of his career.

"We know we came into the Chase behind and that we've been getting outperformed all season long," Gordon said. "We know we have to step it up."

One qualifying lap that was one one-thousandth of a second faster than No. 2 qualifier Mark Martin's, of course, does not mean all is necessarily well. But it was how things came together Friday that left Gordon feeling extra good.

"The first couple of runs we were off a little bit and we made a couple of adjustments and the car came right to us," Gordon said. "The car feels good, it feels comfortable and it's doing what I want it to do."

That hasn't been the case nearly enough this year for Gordon and his No. 24 Chevrolet team.

"It is important that we keep making adjustments that make the car better as we go through the weekend," he said. "By the end of practice I felt we had the best car and then we went out and backed that up."

Martin nearly got him, running 157.054 mph to earn the outside spot on Row 1 for the fifth time this year in just 19 races as he runs a part-time schedule. Martin still hasn't won a pole since Richmond in May of 2001.

Denny Hamlin starts third, followed by Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, David Gilliland, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hamlin, Biffle, Bowyer, Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr. are all in the Chase, as is Kyle Busch, who starts 11th as he tries to rebound from a tough start in the playoff that dropped him from first to eighth in the standings.

"It was pretty disappointing, pretty devastating for everybody," said Busch, who finished 34th in the Chase opener. "It's the same for all the guys on the team as it is for me.

"The only thing we can do is try to put it behind us and work on some things that will make that not happen again and try to continue on. The game plan is to do the same thing that we've done all year long. The same thing we did at Loudon.

"We had some bad luck there and it wasn't one of our favorite tracks anyway, but I feel like we can try to get back on stride and just continue on."

Johnson starts 20th, Jeff Burton 21st, Edwards 22nd, Kevin Harvick 24th and Tony Stewart 33rd to round out the starting spots for Chase drivers.

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