The traditional close racing at Talladega Superspeedway spilled over into The Birmingham News Qualifying on Saturday, as Jeff Gordon and David Gilliland turned in identical fast-lap speeds of 192.069 mph to capture the front row for Sunday's running of the Aaron's 499 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race.
Gordon claimed the Bud Pole position in his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet due to the fact he leads the NEXTEL Cup championship standings, while Gilliland is 29th in the points in his No. 38 M&M's Ford.
"It's just amazing that on a 2.66-mile track, with the wind and everything else that comes into play, that a Ford and Chevy could run that close. It's pretty wild," said Gilliland, who won the Bud Pole at this year's Daytona 500. "I can go back and think, 'Could I have done anything different?' But really, I can't think of anything else. It would have been hard to do much better."
It is Gordon's 60th career Bud Pole, moving him into fourth place on the all-time list, breaking a tie with Darrell Waltrip. But it is the first Bud Pole at Talladega Superspeedway for Gordon, who has qualified in the top-10 at the track 15 times in his career.
Gordon was the first driver to attempt to qualify, and he said he was surprised that his fast-lap time of 49.857 seconds was not surpassed.
"I'm a little shocked that we're on the pole," Gordon said. "I certainly was not expecting to run that fast. Going out first was a benefit for us. The wind was very calm, cooler conditions. That really played a big role, especially when you look at Gilliland and myself tying. I think had they gone out first, they would have been on the pole."
Denny Hamlin qualified third with a speed of 191.551 mph. He was followed by a trio of veteran drivers who have all run limited schedules in recent years: Sterling Marlin in fourth (191.023), Ricky Rudd fifth (190.924) and Kenny Wallace sixth (190.909)
Rounding out the top 10 were Casey Mears in seventh (190.787), Jimmie Johnson eighth
(190.757), Scott Riggs ninth (190.465) and rookie David Ragan 10th (190.393).
Two pre-race favorites - Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. - will start near the back of the 43-car field. Stewart qualified 32nd with a speed of 188.675, while Earnhardt was 36th at 188.389.
Six drivers - Martin Truex Jr., Robby Gordon, Elliott Sadler, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton - had to qualify on owner points, while Dale Jarrett made the race by using his final Past Champion's provisional of the season.
Nine drivers failed to qualify: Michael Waltrip, Brian Vickers (the winner of last year's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway), Dave Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger, Ken Schrader, Mike Wallace, Kevin Lepage, John Andretti and Mike Bliss.
Schrader was attempting to qualify as the driver of the No. 21 Ford owned by the Wood Brothers. It is the first time that the No. 21 car has failed to qualify for a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race since April 2000, also at Talladega Superspeedway.
"We threw everything we had at it," car owner Eddie Wood said, "but it just wasn't enough."
Tickets for the Aaron's 499 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race on Sunday may be ordered by calling 1-877- Go2-DEGA and are also available for purchase on-site at the Talladega Superspeedway Ticket Office located on Speedway Boulevard at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.