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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start Sunday’s Alabama 500 from the pole position after posting the top speed in the final round of qualifying Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama.
Chase Elliott also earned a place on the front row for the second race in the Cup Championship Playoffs’ Round of 12. Joey Logano and Kurt Busch are set to begin on Row 2 after finishing third and fourth with their qualifying runs, respectively.
It’s the second pole of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for Junior and the 15th of his standout career.
Here’s a look at the top 10 starters for Sunday’s race, via NASCAR.com:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88)
2. Chase Elliott (24)
3. Joey Logano (22)
4. Kurt Busch (41)
5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17)
6. Brad Keselowski (2)
7. Clint Bowyer (14)
8. Jimmie Johnson (48)
9. Ryan Blaney (21)
10. Trevor Bayne (6)
Earnhardt finding success at Talladega comes as no surprise. The 43-year-old fan favorite owns six wins at the track, which is two more than any other venue. It’s the first time he’ll have the opportunity to start from the No. 1 spot in the restrictor-plate race, though.
He was a step above everybody else throughout Saturday’s action. He finished first in the opening round of qualifying and then repeated the feat to win the pole in Round 2.
NASCAR on NBC passed along his comments following the terrific runs:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
.@DaleJr got the pole, and if he gets the win, it’d be for his fans. #appreci88ion https://t.co/EpVRgvWvjy
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch could use a strong rebound performance this week. He started to make a serious charge toward the top of the standings with back-to-back victories at New Hampshire and Dover, but his 29th-place showing last week at Charlotte was 14 spots worse than any other title contender.
The 2015 Cup Series champion is still within striking distance of current leader Martin Truex Jr., but the lackluster result also brought elimination into the picture with two races left in the round.
“It stinks to give up points,” Busch told reporters. “We come in here and thought we had a good shot to run in the top 10, and we did and I threw it away. We’re still above the cut line, but we don’t have that cushion that we’d like to have going to Talladega.”
Brad Keselowski is another driver to watch Sunday. He led the most laps in this race last year (90) before engine trouble brought a premature end to his day. In all, he’s recorded three top-10 finishes and a victory in five starts at Talladega, per Yahoo Sports.
The 33-year-old Michigan native could use another memorable day at the Alabama track. He currently sits 10th in the standings, which leaves him in danger of missing the Round of 8 cut if he doesn’t find success over the next two races.
NASCAR on NBC noted it’s also a milestone event for the veteran driver:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
300 starts. 23 wins. 1 big championship trophy.
Cheers to 300 Cup starts, Brad @keselowski! 🍺 #GoingFor2 https://t.co/BbDHA2ifOx
Looking ahead, expect to see a lot of playoff drivers to exercise extreme caution Sunday, especially during the first half of the race. The risk of an early crash that results in a finish near the bottom greatly outweighs the potential reward of trying to make a surge during the early laps.
That could be good news for Earnhardt, who’s not in the postseason field but is seeking at least one more victory before his retirement at season’s end.