FORT WORTH, Texas - Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the third Hendrick driver to earn a pole this season. Now maybe he can be the first to win a race.
Earnhardt, the Hendrick newcomer and the team's most consistent finisher with four consecutive top 10s, ran a fast lap of 190.907 mph Friday at Texas Motor Speedway to earn the pole for the Samsung 500. It is his first pole in 22 races, since Pocono in August.
'The car handled really good,' Earnhardt said. 'The car is as good and as comfortable ... It could be a good weekend for us.'
The qualifying run came on the 10th anniversary of Earnhardt's first NASCAR victory, a Nationwide race at Texas. Earnhardt also got his first Sprint Cup victory at the 11/2-mile high-banked track in 2000.
Starting beside Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet on the front row will be Carl Edwards, who ran a lap of 189.487 in his Ford. It is the first time Edwards, the only driver with two Cup victories this season, has started better than 10th at Texas, where he won the 2005 fall race.
Kyle Busch will start third, followed by Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. Points leader Jeff Burton qualified 35th.
Qualifying was stopped for more than an hour after rookie driver Michael McDowell was involved in a horrific tumbling crash. McDowell walked away virtually unscathed, but track officials had to make temporary repairs to the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier that McDowell hit.
A Hendrick driver has won the pole at four of the five tracks where qualifying hasn't been rained out. Two-time defending Cup champion Johnson was the polesitter at Daytona, and Jeff Gordon won the last two poles determined on the track.
But Hendrick Motorsports, which won 18 races last season, is still looking for its first victory this year. And Earnhardt is trying to break a 68-race winless streak that dates back to Richmond in May 2006.
'I think a majority of the people are as hungry as I am for a win,' Earnhardt said. 'The thing that I'm trying not to look past or under-appreciate is how much better I'm doing in my career, in this position I'm in this year, and how much a better situation I'm in and how much happier I am as a person.'
Earnhardt finished ninth at Daytona, but since a 40th-place finish at Fontana has been sixth or better the last four races.
'I want to go out there and get a win, get that out of the way,' Earnhardt said. 'But how much better everything is for me right now is overwhelming in a sense.'
Gordon, who hasn't won a race at Texas, will start 18th, four spots ahead of Casey Mears, the other Hendrick driver.
Dario Franchitti, Chad McCumbee and Burney Lamar didn't qualify. It is the first Cup race that Franchitti, last year's IndyCar Series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, will miss for Chip Ganassi.