JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - No matter what Jeff Gordon and his crew did in the morning practice session, he kept winding up fourth or fifth. He wasn't just
getting edged out, either. Other cars were easily beating him, and Gordon didn't know where he would find the extra speed to make another run at the
But as he has with stunning regularity recently, Gordon came through when it counted. He won his fourth straight pole on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit
Friday, shattering the track record in the Tropicana 400 with a lap of 186.942 mph. That's more than 2 mph better than the previous mark of 184.786
mph set last year by Tony Stewart.
"I say this every weekend how shocked I am to be here,
"Gordon said, "but I am.
Qualifying was delayed about two hours because of thunderstorms, and Gordon took advantage of the cooler track. He ran one lap on the 1-mile track,
beating the early standard of 186.871 mph set by rookie Kasey Kahne, and decided that was all he needed.
"You just hold on tight and hope that it sticks,"
he said. "I knew it was a good lap, and I hoped that it was because I couldn't make a
Gordon is the first driver to win four straight poles since Bill Elliott in 1985, and is one shy of the NASCAR modern era record set by Bobby Allison
in 1972 and matched by Cale Yarborough in 1980 and Elliott in 1985. The pole was the 51st of Gordon's career, tying Bobby Isaac for seventh on the
career list. Jimmie Johnson, the series points leader and Gordon's teammate, took his turn about 30 minutes later after Gordon, but his lap of 186.290
mph was only good enough for third. Brian Vickers was next at 185.750 mph, giving Hendrick Motorsports three of the top four teams.
"I knew it was going to be real close to having Gordon beat it,"
Kahne said. "It felt good, better than what we had in practice. It was
definitely close to getting the pole, but Jeff just got us."
That's been happening a lot lately. After bad runs at Charlotte and Dover, Gordon began a run at Michigan that has left even him amazed. He won the
pole at Michigan and led 81 of 88 laps.
He won his next two races, starting from the pole each time.
"I've been very fortunate to have some good streaks along the way, but this streak is pretty amazing right now,"
he said. "I just want to
maintain this one as long as I can."
Though Gordon is the only driver to run every lap at Chicagoland Speedway, he has never won here, one of only four tracks on the circuit where he
doesn't have a victory. His best finish is second in 2002. But if he keeps doing what he's been doing, that could change Sunday.
"With each week that we go, that we sit on another pole, that we win another race, the confidence level just gets higher and higher,"
Gordon tails Johnson by 232 points, a whopping margin in years past. But this year, NASCAR will reset the field with 10 races to go and all drivers in
the top 10 and any others within 400 points of the leader will run for the championship.
"Whoever is peaking in those final 10 will be the champion,"
At the beginning of the year, Kahne was on a hot streak he has four runner-up finishes this season. Then it was Johnson's turn, with a victory and
four top-five finishes in a five-race span.
Now it's Gordon's to rule the circuit.
"We needed to get on this type of streak to keep ourselves in the top 10 in points,"
he said. "I want to be on this type of streak those
last 10 races. I don't think there's any reason why we shouldn't be able to maintain these things. Karma, the whole thing has to be working in your
he added. "And it is right now."
Defending champion Ryan Newman qualified eighth at 185.274 mph. Stewart, who had to use his backup car after a crash in practice, was 10th. Dale
Earnhardt Jr., who trails Johnson in the standings by just 27 points, qualified 25th in the 43-car field.