Jeff Gordon shouted “Oh, yeah boys! Yoo Hoo!” over his radio, then punched his right arm skyward when he emerged from his No. 24 Chevrolet as his resurgent season continues.
Gordon turned a fast lap of 129.466 mph on Saturday to win the pole for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, edging road racing ace Marcos Ambrose and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in the second and final round of knockout qualifying.
It was Gordon’s first pole of the season, third at Watkins Glen, and 75th of his stellar career.
Just like old times at Watkins Glen International, where Gordon has won four times. And on his son Leo’s birthday no less.
“This year has been phenomenal,” said Gordon, whose last pole at the storied road course was 11 years ago. “I wished him a happy birthday this morning and said, ‘All right, I’m going to try to get you that pole.’
“I wasn’t real confident in that statement, and now I really can’t wait to talk to him.”
Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five. AJ Allmendinger was sixth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman.
Defending race winner Kyle Busch will start 19th. Just missing the final round of qualifying was five-time Watkins Glen winner Tony Stewart, who will start 13th.
Danica Patrick, who crashed in final practice on Friday and will start at the rear of the field, used the session for practice and ran 11 laps.
With five races left until the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins, the drivers on the cusp of making the 16-driver field didn’t fare well. Greg Biffle will start 28th, two spots in front of Kasey Kahne. Rookies Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon were 23rd and 31st.
Ambrose, who has won two of the past three Cup races at Watkins Glen, set a track record of 129.491 mph in the first round of qualifying and had the fastest lap of the second round until Gordon went out at just the right time with no other drivers to contend with.
Ambrose sped out in the closing seconds in an attempt to make one final run at the top spot but was too late and had to settle for second.
“I wish Jeff was a little kinder to me to let me get the pole,” said Ambrose, who needs a victory to make the Chase and is at the track where he’s the odds-on favourite. “It was a pretty good lap, though, and I will take it. You have to be happy with front-row starts.”
Indeed. The last four winners at Watkins Glen came from the top 5 in qualifying.
Keselowski, who won the pole for the Nationwide race at The Glen earlier Saturday and has finished second in the Cup race here the last three years, had traffic on one run and had to do a second trip around the 2.45-mile layout.
“It kept all stacking up,” Keselowski said. “I feel like we are really fast in race trim, we have a lot of speed. We just need it to not fall off so much. It we can do that, we will have a shot to win.”