Chase hopeful Jeff Gordon takes Cup pole at Richmond

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Jeff Gordon set another new track record for NASCAR’s Generation-6 machines this afternoon at Richmond International Raceway, and will start on the pole for tomorrow’s Federated Auto Parts 400.

The battle under the lights will be the last shot Gordon has to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. In order to make the post-season, the winless Gordon – who currently sits 11th in points – needs to either climb into the Top-10 in the Sprint Cup standings or take a victory tomorrow night to grab a Wild Card berth.

Gordon (130.599 mph) will be joined on the front row by Kurt Busch, the driver that is currently 10th in the standings at six points ahead of the four-time Cup champion. Busch turned in a lap at 130.334 mph, as he looks to get his single-car Furniture Row Racing team into the Chase.

Row 2 will feature reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who needs a win to stand any hope of making the Chase, and Clint Bowyer. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin will make up Row 3, followed by Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano in Row 4.

Filling in for Jimmie Johnson after the birth of his second child this morning was Regan Smith, who qualified Johnson’s No. 48 machine in 10th place. However, Johnson will still have to start tomorrow night’s race from the rear of the field.

For those especially keeping an eye on the Chase hopefuls, here’s where they’ll be on the grid for tomorrow at RIR:

Jeff Gordon (11th in standings, no wins) – 1st
Kurt Busch (10th in standings, no wins) – 2nd
Brad Keselowski (15th in standings, no wins) – 3rd
Jamie McMurray (16th in standings, no wins) – 7th
Joey Logano (eighth in standings, one win) – 8th
Greg Biffle (ninth in standings, one win) – 9th
Martin Truex Jr. (13th in standings, one win, Wild Card) – 11th
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh in standings, no wins) – 14th
Paul Menard (17th in standings, no wins) – 22nd
Ryan Newman (14th in standings, one win) – 24th

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.