Jeff Gordon wins 75th career Sprint Cup pole at Watkins Glen

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Jeff Gordon has won four times at Watkins Glen International in his illustrious career, but hasn’t gone to Victory Lane there since 2001.

It looks like he stands a good chance to end that drought. The current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship leader set a new track record with a lap of 68.126 seconds (129.466 mph) to claim the pole position for tomorrow’s Cheez-It 355.

His 75th career Sprint Cup pole also served as a nice birthday present for his son, Leo, who turns four today.

“Today is Leo’s birthday and I told him on the phone earlier that I was gonna try and get a pole for him – not realistically thinking I had a shot at it,” Gordon told ESPN. “But we were going for it and we got it done. Happy Birthday, buddy.”

With less than four minutes to go in the 10-minute final round, Gordon leaped to the top of the charts ahead of Marcos Ambrose. As the clock wound down, the Australian raced out of the pits in a bid to retake the pole with one last flyer.

But he did not make it to the start/finish line in time to begin the lap, ensuring that Gordon would claim his third career Cup pole at the New York State road course.

The pole also snaps a string of poor starts for Gordon at the Glen. He had started outside the Top-10 in the previous five races there.

“Qualifying is what’s really been hurting us here at Watkins Glen and I blame myself mainly,” said Gordon. “[But] I’m so happy today to get three shots at it – I think that made the big difference.

“The first lap, I did OK but I got held up a little bit coming back to the checkered. The second one was a really good lap that got us into the Top 12, and I just tried to do the same things on the last lap.

“[Crew chief] Alan [Gustafson] made a slight adjustment and I thought it was about the same I ran before. I didn’t think it’d be that much better, but, wow, what a lap.”

Meanwhile, Ambrose will start on the outside of the front row as he seeks to break into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with what would be his third win in the last four Cup races at the Glen.

For now, though, the Aussie will shift his attention to today’s Nationwide Series Zippo 200, where he’ll start fourth behind polesitter and fellow Sprint Cup regular Brad Keselowski.

Jimmie Johnson will try to stop his recent run of bad luck on Sunday from the inside of Row 2. Joining him there will be Kevin Harvick, who led Friday’s first practice session.

Kurt Busch and another potential darkhorse in A.J. Allmendinger start from Row 3. Pocono winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are in Row 4, and Row 5 consists of Keselowski and Ryan Newman.

Other notables include five-time Glen winner Tony Stewart in 13th; defending Cheez-It 355 winner Kyle Busch in 19th; solid road racers Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. in 24th and 25th respectively; Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Nelson Piquet Jr. in 32nd; and Danica Patrick in 43rd after having to go to a backup car.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen – Starting Lineup

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.