May 2, 4:38 PM EDT

Jeff Gordon leads Hendrick in pole-winning run at Talladega


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TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) -- In this farewell season for Jeff Gordon, he continues to seize every moment both on and off the track.

Gordon won the 80th pole of his career Saturday with a blistering lap around Talladega Superspeedway, where he's a six-time race winner.

The four-time NASCAR champion will start first Sunday and have all three of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates surrounding him as he seeks his first win of the season.

Gordon's lap of 194.793 mph was a hefty 0.28 seconds faster than teammate Kasey Kahne, who qualified second for a Hendrick Motorsports front row. It's the third pole of the season for Gordon, who also was fastest in Daytona 500 qualifying, which was done under a different format.

"I am so proud of this pole because we got the pole in Daytona, but it was a totally different format," Gordon said. "I knew the car was fast there - for this team to bring another car, a different car here, and all the hard work from the engine shop ... a lot of hard work goes into this."

Kahne was satisfied with second.

"I didn't think I could beat Jeff, but I thought I could get up there on the front row with him," Kahne said.

Gordon raced from qualifying to the Fox television booth, where he was a guest analyst for Saturday's Xfinity Series race. He's more open about his free time this final year and he's determined to enjoy every week.

He's hosting friends from New York City this weekend, and used their visit to make his first trip out to Talladega's infamous boulevard in at least a decade. The rowdy party scene is NASCAR's version of Mardi Gras, and Gordon has avoided it for years.

Gordon joked Saturday his time in the infield Friday night helped him win the pole.

"It was so much fun, this whole year, all I've wanted to do was just enjoy the moments and take it all in," he said. "I feel like we've done a good job of that with the scheduling and everything, and I'm having a ball.

"I haven't been out there on the boulevard in like 10 years. And so it was worth it."

NASCAR used a different qualifying format at Daytona, where the field was set through group sessions that the teams and drivers found a way to manipulate. Gordon was pushed to his pole-winning run by teammate Jimmie Johnson, and NASCAR and its fans were furious at the farce of a session.

So a hybrid of both old-style single-car runs and group sessions was used Saturday at Talladega, where cars were sent out one at a time in intervals set by NASCAR. The 12 fastest drivers advanced into the second and final round, which was dominated by the Chevrolets from Hendrick Motorsports.

Although Ryan Blaney sneaked his Ford into the mix by qualifying third, the next two spots went to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson as all four Hendrick drivers qualified in the top five.

Tony Stewart, who uses a Hendrick Motorsports engine, qualified sixth.

Paul Menard was seventh for Richard Childress Racing and Toyota took the next three spots with Matt Kenseth, David Ragan and Clint Bowyer.

Casey Mears was 11th in a Chevrolet for Germain Racing and Sam Hornish rounded out the top-12 in his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.

Kahne was

"I didn't think I could beat Jeff, but I thought I could get up there on the front row with him," Kahne said.

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