Chase contender Jeff Gordon claimed his first pole position of the season in qualifying for Saturday's Sprint Cup Chase round at Charlotte.
The four-time Cup champion, who had last won a pole 33 races ago, came out on top during Thursday's qualifying session at the track where he claimed his first career victory back in 1994.
Gordon, currently fourth in the championship standings, beat the previous benchmark set early in the session by Richard Petty's Paul Menard, posting a fastest lap of 28.192sec at an average speed of 191.544mph, which stood unbeaten despite a number of the best drivers from practice going out later in the session.
With practice having run during the day and qualification under the lights, the change in track conditions led to some surprises, including Gordon's lap when nobody else improved their times, earning him a seventh pole at Charlotte – where he last started first back in 2000.
"I'm just shocked," said Gordon after claiming his 69th career pole, which places him third in the all-time ranking, tied with NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough. "If you look at our practice speeds and how hard we were trying to run fast laps...it was actually a blessing that we weren't good in practice today because we were really helping the track come to us.
"Tonight, I just wasn't expecting that at all and I'm really happy and excited and it does a lot for us. Here at Charlotte track position is important, confidence is always good and this definitely gives us a lot of that."
Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards, whose title bid suffered a major setback at Fontana due to electrical issues, will start beside Gordon from second as Chase contenders locked out the front for the first time in this year's playoff series. Both will be looking for their first victory of the season on Saturday night.
AJ Allmendinger continued to show great qualifying speed from Richard Petty Motorsports with third, while Hendrick's Mark Martin and Menard rounded out the top five.
Reigning champion and Chase leader Jimmie Johnson was 10th, while Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick ended up on the 12th row of the grid, three ahead of last week's winner Tony Stewart, the lowest qualifier among the title contenders.
Right ahead of the Stewart-Haas driver in 28th place was Hendrick protege Landon Cassill, driving for Phoenix Racing, as the fastest among those having to make the race on qualifying speed.
Six drivers were left out of the field for Saturday's race including Joe Nemechek, Casey Mears, Mike Bliss, Jason Leffler, rookie Kevin Conway and Johnny Sauter.
Pos Driver Car Speed Time Gap
1. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 191.544 28.192s
2. Carl Edwards Ford 191.455 28.205s + 0.013s
3. AJ Allmendinger Ford 190.921 28.284s + 0.092s
4. Mark Martin Chevrolet 190.914 28.285s + 0.093s
5. Paul Menard Ford 190.678 28.320s + 0.128s
6. Kyle Busch Toyota 190.644 28.325s + 0.133s
7. Reed Sorenson Toyota 190.409 28.360s + 0.168s
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 190.382 28.364s + 0.172s
9. Elliott Sadler Ford 190.382 28.364s + 0.172s
10. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 190.342 28.370s + 0.178s
11. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 190.322 28.373s + 0.181s
12. Joey Logano Toyota 190.275 28.380s + 0.188s
13. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 190.275 28.380s + 0.188s
14. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 190.121 28.403s + 0.211s
15. Kurt Busch Dodge 190.101 28.406s + 0.214s
16. David Reutimann Toyota 190.067 28.411s + 0.219s
17. Matt Kenseth Ford 190.007 28.420s + 0.228s
18. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 189.813 28.449s + 0.257s
19. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 189.793 28.452s + 0.260s
20. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 189.753 28.458s + 0.266s
21. Scott Speed Toyota 189.707 28.465s + 0.273s
22. Greg Biffle Ford 189.607 28.480s + 0.288s
23. Denny Hamlin Toyota 189.527 28.492s + 0.300s
24. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 189.520 28.493s + 0.301s
25. Kasey Kahne Ford 189.494 28.497s + 0.305s
26. David Ragan Ford 189.334 28.521s + 0.329s
27. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 189.268 28.531s + 0.339s
28. Landon Cassill Chevrolet 189.255 28.533s + 0.341s
29. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 189.168 28.546s + 0.354s
30. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 189.023 28.568s + 0.376s
31. Brad Keselowski Dodge 189.010 28.570s + 0.378s
32. Regan Smith Chevrolet 188.890 28.588s + 0.396s
33. Michael McDowell Chevrolet 188.871 28.591s + 0.399s
34. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 188.857 28.593s + 0.401s
35. Patrick Carpentier Ford 188.805 28.601s + 0.409s
36. David Gilliland Ford 188.719 28.614s + 0.422s
37. Bill Elliott Ford 188.232 28.688s + 0.496s
38. Andy Lally Chevrolet 187.669 28.774s + 0.582s
39. Robby Gordon Toyota 187.533 28.795s + 0.603s
40. JJ Yeley Chevrolet 187.363 28.821s + 0.629s
41. Dave Blaney Ford 185.484 29.113s + 0.921s
42. Travis Kvapil Ford 185.484 29.113s + 0.921s
43. Jeff Green Toyota 187.305 28.830s + 0.638s
Did not qualify:
Joe Nemechek Toyota 187.214 28.844s + 0.652s
Casey Mears Toyota 186.935 28.887s + 0.695s
Mike Bliss Toyota 186.599 28.939s + 0.747s
Jason Leffler Toyota 185.810 29.062s + 0.870s
Kevin Conway Toyota 185.790 29.065s + 0.873s
Johnny Sauter Toyota 183.561 29.418s + 1.226s