RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Brian Vickers turned a lap at 127.131 mph to win the pole position for Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway.

Vickers was the 10th driver on the track in qualifying Friday night, and his speed held up as notable short-track qualifiers Jeff Gordon and hometown star Denny Hamlin made runs at him.

Gordon got the closest at 126.844 mph, but was forced to settle for the outside of the front row. Hamlin will start third after a lap at 126.665, with Martin Truex Jr. fourth.

“The car was unbelievable,” Vickers said. “I told the guys when I came across the line that it was a pretty good one. Whether it was going to be able to hold up, I wasn’t sure.”

The pole is the seventh of Vickers’ career and second this season. He also started first in the second race at Fontana, Calif. It also is his second at Richmond, where he set the track qualifying mark five years ago with a lap at 129.983 mph on the 0.75-mile oval.

The wide difference in qualifying speed isn’t surprising, he said, because the track has worn over time and the switch to the Car of Tomorrow has also slowed things. Relatively speaking, though, “we probably have as good of a car or better to go compete for a win, and obviously five years of experience is priceless when it comes to racing in this series.”

Gordon, a five-time pole-sitter at Richmond, was both disappointed and excited.

“You always pick the lap apart trying to figure out where you could be a little bit better no matter where you qualify, but especially when you are that close to being on the pole,” he said. “Brian laid down a great lap … We came close, but not good enough.”

At the same time, he said, the day started poorly, and it wasn’t until they team switched to its qualifying package that Gordon started making laps that he moved up near the front.

“I think we have hit on some things,” he said.

Hamlin, meanwhile, won’t have far to go to get back to where he spent most of this race a year ago. He led 381 of the 400 laps before a leaky front tire caused him to face.

“We were hoping to get somewhere in the top 10,” Hamlin said. “We didn’t think we had a car for the pole. As close as it came, it looks like we got everything we could out of it.”

Asked if he could dominate again, he spied Gordon entering the room.

“With Brian and Jeff on the front row, it should take at least half a lap to get around them,” Hamlin said. “You just don’t have cars that are that dominant like that. It was just an extreme circumstance where we happened to get lucky and hit the set-up that day.”

Other notable qualifiers included points leader Kurt Busch in the 17th position, defending race champion Clint Bowyer in the 12th spot and three-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson in 15th. Tony Stewart, who is fourth in points, will start in the 16th spot.

In all, 10 drivers tried to earn one of eight spots available in the field not guaranteed to the top 35 drivers, and Todd Bodine and Trevor Boys were the two that didn’t make it.

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