Kahne wins pole; Hornish 10th

JENNA FRYER AP Auto Racing Writer Published:

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) -- Ride or race was the question NASCAR's title contenders are considering as they prepare for Talladega Superspeedway.

The fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup could be the one that shuffles the 12-driver championship field. The use of restrictor plates bunches the field, and the unpredictability of drafting and relying on partners usually creates a chaotic race that can end a drivers' title hopes.

So when qualifying ended Saturday, and Kasey Kahne sat on the pole for the first time at a plate race, drivers began discussing in earnest how they will attack the 500-mile event.

"We just really need to race and race hard," he said. "We're a long ways back right now, and if we can't make up points at a track like this, we probably aren't going to make them up."

Meanwhile, Sam Hornish Jr. qualified 10th. Jeff Gordon was sixth, and was followed by Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne and Martin Truex Jr.

Kahne's lap of 191.455 mph bettered Ryan Newman's 191.145, putting a pair of Chevrolets on the front row for Sunday's race.

Asked what it meant for Kahne's race, he didn't offer many details.

"It means I'm going to start first, that's it," Kahne said. "I'll try to lead that first lap. If we're up there, we'll try to stay up there."

That's the big debate among drivers who differ on strategy for Talladega. Some may ride around in the back of the field waiting to make a late charge in an effort to avoid potential dicey situations, but some want to be aggressive and be out front as much as possible.

Kahne, who is sixth in the standings and trails leader Brad Keselowski by 32 points, insists he'll race.

So will two-time defending race winner Clint Bowyer, who has had Talladega circled as the track that can most help his championship chances. He's fourth in the standings and has talked all week about gaining some big ground on Sunday.

Then he surprised himself with a third-place qualifying run that forced him to reconsider his race strategy.

"I am blown away, shocked, that we were top three," Bowyer said. "I thought, definitely going into today, my whole plan for the weekend was we were going to qualify poorly and ride around in the back. Well, we're in the front, and I'm going to try to stay there."

Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart qualified fourth and was followed by Greg Biffle as Chase drivers took four of the top five starting sports.

Truex , Bowyer's teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing, said he's going to race on Sunday.

"I've been crashed here more than not, so we're going to go out there and race," he said. "We're going to have fun and we're going to try to stay up front and lead some laps and hopefully be around at the end. I've crashed here going for the lead and I've been crashed here trying to ride around in the back. So there's no safe place."

Michael Waltrip was 11th and followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., as two drivers who once dominated restrictor-plate races will start side-by-side on Sunday.

In all, Chase drivers took six of the top-10 starting spots. The other half of the Chase field is spread out all the way down to 23rd, which is where Denny Hamlin will go off today.

Matt Kenseth was 15th, Jimmie Johnson 17th, Kevin Harvick 21st and leader Keselowski 22nd.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.