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During a year in which he has had his fair share of rotten luck, the racing gods smiled down upon Martin Truex Jr. on Friday. Truex secured the pole for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
The No. 78 car posted a top speed of 179.244 mph and overall time of 50.211 seconds in the final round of qualifying, which was 0.104 seconds faster than Carl Edwards. Paul Menard, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman rounded out the five fastest cards. Below is the full running order for Sunday, per NASCAR.com:
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||179.244||50.211|
|14||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||177.281||50.767|
Truex already has one win this season, so he’s all but assured of a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. In that respect, he isn’t heading into the weekend in desperate need of a victory. Getting a second checkered flag would mean climbing in the standings, though, potentially as high as third place—up from ninth.
NASCAR on NBCSN shared his reaction after the race:
.@MartinTruex_Jr wins the pole at Pocono! #NASCARonNBCSN https://t.co/nW9KDymm8m
— NASCAR on NBCSN (@NASCARonNBC) July 29, 2016
Perhaps it’s fate that Truex’s last pole—the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29—coincided with his only win in 2016.
A little further down the starting grid, Jeff Gordon qualified for 24th ahead of his second race back since he started filling in for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon started in 21st and finished in 13th in last week’s Brickyard 400.
All things considered, that was a more than positive result for Gordon. Historically speaking, starting in 24th may not be a bad development for the legendary driver, either. He placed second at Gobowling.com 400 at Pocono in August 2013 despite qualifying for 22nd. The year before that, he won after starting 27th.
ESPN.com’s Bob Pockrass shared an anecdote from one fan who was simply happy to see Gordon at Pocono again:
Anthem singer who rocked it for ARCA race showed me a photo album he had of meeting Jeff Gordon about 13 years ago as a kid here at Pocono.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) July 29, 2016
Gordon’s performance Sunday won’t have any Chase implications, but seeing him in Victory Lane again would be a cool moment.
The stakes for Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne and Ryan Blaney will be higher this weekend. They’re the three highest-ranked drivers outside of the Chase. Bayne and Blaney probably need a win to get inside the top 16, but Kahne is only 10 points behind Kyle Larson.
Kahne will be starting in 23rd. He has two wins at Pocono over his career, with the last coming in 2013. With three top-10 finishes in his last four races there, he could potentially track down Larson.
With just six races left until the Chase begins, Kahne and his fellow drivers don’t have much longer to secure themselves a place in the top 16.