Jeff Gordon gets his 4th consecutive pole

Jeff Gordon is on such an unbelievable streak even he's amazed by it. Gordon won his fourth straight pole on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit Friday afternoon, shattering the track record at the Tropicana 400 with a lap of 186.942 mph. That's more than two miles faster than the previous mark of 184.786 mph set last year by Tony Stewart.

``I've been very fortunate to have some good streaks along the way, but this streak is pretty amazing right now,'' said Gordon, who is looking for his third straight victory Sunday. ``I just want to maintain this one as long as I can.''

Gordon is the first driver to win four straight poles since Bill Elliott in 1985. The victory leaves him one shy of the NASCAR record, and he could match it in two weeks at Loudon, N.H.

``Oh God, that's a tough place to qualify,'' Gordon said.

He wasn't sure how much luck he was going to have at the Chicagoland Speedway, though, either.

``I say how shocked I am to be here, but I am. Only because we were putting out our best effort all day today and we were the fourth- or fifth-place car,'' he said. ``Guys had us beat ... and it was by a few tenths. I didn't know how we were going to find that speed.''

But just as he has with stunning regularity recently, Gordon did find it. Running late in the qualifying session, which was delayed about two hours by a heavy rainstorm, Gordon took advantage of the cooler temperatures.

He ran one lap in 28.886 seconds, beating the early standard of 186.871 mph set by rookie Kasey Kahne, and decided that was all he needed. He didn't even bother taking a second lap.

``You just hold on tight and hope that it sticks,'' he said. ``I knew it was a good lap, and I hoped that it was because I couldn't make a second one.''

It's the 51st pole of Gordon's career, tying Bobby Isaac for seventh on the career list. It's his 12th top-10 start of the season, most of any driver this year.

Series points leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson took his turn about 30 minutes later, but he couldn't top Gordon with a lap at 186.290 mph. Kahne finished second and Johnson was third. Brian Vickers was next at 185.750 mph, giving Hendrick Motorsports three of the top four teams.

Defending champion Ryan Newman qualified eighth at 185.274 mph. Stewart, who had to use his backup car after a crash in practice, was 10th. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who trails Johnson in the points standings by just 27 points, qualified 25th in the 43-car field.

``We definitely had our hearts set on winning the pole,'' Johnson said. ``But I'm glad to see a Hendrick's car on the pole and three in the top four.

Gordon got off to a slow start this year, with an accident in Atlanta dropping him to 13th in the points race. He seemed to rebound with wins at Talladega and California, climbing to third in the standings, only to drop back to fifth after finishing 30th at Charlotte and 36th at Dover.

Then came Michigan, and the start of the streak. Gordon won the pole there, but finished 38th because of engine problems. But at windswept Sonoma, he won both the pole and the race.

He did the same thing last week at Daytona, jumping back to third in the standings.

``With each week that we go, that we sit on another pole, that we win another race, the confidence level just gets higher and higher,'' he said.

Gordon tails Johnson by 232 points, a whopping margin in years past. But this year, NASCAR will reset the field with 10 races to go and all drivers in the top 10 will run for the championship.

``Whoever is peaking is going to be the champion,'' Johnson said.

At the beginning of the year, Kahne was on a hot streak -- he has four runner-up finishes this season.

Then it was Johnson's turn. Now it's Gordon's to rule the circuit.

``We needed to get on this type of streak to keep ourselves in the top 10 in points,'' he said. ``I want to be on this type of streak those last 10 races. I don't think there's any reason why we shouldn't be able to maintain these things.

``Karma, the whole thing has to be working in your favor,'' Gordon said. ``And it is right now.''

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