CONCORD, N.C. — Jeff Gordon’s long winless streak is well documented. His season-long drought without a pole drew less attention.
Gordon never thought after a poor practice session Thursday that later that night he’d snap out of his qualifying funk. But after recovering with a speedy lap of 191.544 mph at Charlotte Motor Speedway put him up front for Saturday’s race, Gordon is setting his sights high.
How about his first victory since early last season to get into real contention for a fifth points championship?
“If we can get that confidence back, that’s what’s going to help us win this championship,” Gordon said “A pole is definitely that little step. A win would be a huge step for us.”
Gordon, in fourth place in the points standings, barely held off Carl Edwards, who will start second after a lap of 191.455 mph.
AJ Allmendinger qualified third, followed by Mark Martin, Paul Menard and Kyle Busch.
Jimmie Johnson, the points leader who’s seeking a fifth straight Sprint Cup title, will start 10th in the fifth of 10 races in the Chase for the championship.
Johnson’s closest competition will be farther back. Denny Hamlin, who enters the weekend in second place and 36 points behind Johnson, qualified 23rd. Kevin Harvick, 54 points back, will start 24th.
Gordon had a miserable afternoon practice session in which he posted the 33rd fastest time. But that was in the sunlight, and when dusk fell and the track cooled, Gordon’s fortunes changed as he went out 23rd out of 49 cars.
He still wasn’t impressed until he said his No. 24 Chevrolet “flew” through the final two turns to earn his 69th career pole and his first at Charlotte in 10 years.
“A huge shock,” said Gordon, who trails Johnson by 85 points. “We have just not qualified good this year. … I felt like there was a time like we were the pole king, like Ryan Newman, when it comes to Charlotte.
“Today, the way it was going, I didn’t think we had a shot at this pole.”
He was able to beat Newman, who won the pole here for the spring race but qualified 11th Thursday. Now can Gordon win for the first time since Texas in 2009?
“The thing I’m most proud about this team is while we haven’t won in quite a while, we haven’t been fighting with one another,” Gordon said. “We’re not second-guessing one another.”
Edwards, in seventh place and 162 points back, took advantage of extra time spent on preparing his car for qualifying. It’s a luxury Edwards said he couldn’t afford earlier this season when his team was doing all it could to get their cars competitive for races.
“I feel like our qualifying is as good as it’s ever been right now,” Edwards said. “And this is when it needs to be good.”
Reed Sorenson qualified seventh, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Elliott Sadler.
The drivers who made the field after needing to get in on qualifying times included Landon Cassill (28th), Bobby Labonte (30th), Michael McDowell (33rd), Patrick Carpentier (35th), David Gilliland (36th), Bill Elliott (37th), J.J. Yeley (40th) and Jeff Green (43rd).
Joe Nemechek, Mike Bliss, Kevin Conway, Jason Leffler, Casey Mears and Johnny Sauter failed to make the race.