Sparta, KY (Sports Network) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start on the pole for Saturday night's Quaker State 400 after edging Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson in qualifying at Kentucky Speedway.
Earnhardt capitalized on cloudy skies and cooler track temperatures during his qualifying run to set a new track record on Friday with a lap at 183.636 mph. The top-9 finishers in qualifying broke the previous record of 181.818 mph at Kentucky, set by Johnson one year ago.
"I felt like we had a good shot at putting a good lap down, but I didn't know if we had a good enough chance to beat Jimmie (Johnson) and some of those other guys," Earnhardt said. "We got some great cloud cover, and that cooled the track temperatures down."
It was the 12th career Sprint Cup Series pole for Earnhardt but his first since last September at Richmond (24 races ago). His most recent win was 37 races ago in June 2012 at Michigan.
Edwards earned the outside pole with a lap at 183.306 mph. He won the pole two weeks ago at Michigan and qualified third last week at Sonoma, Calif.
"The clouds and the track temperatures were a huge part of qualifying today, so we were fortunate enough to have cloud cover for about 75 percent of the track, which was nice," Edwards said.
Johnson, the current points leader, qualified third with his lap at 183.144 mph. The five-time series champion enters this race with a 25-point advantage over Edwards.
"I was really happy with my lap," Johnson said. "I felt like (turns) 1 and 2 went very well for me, but 3 and 4, I felt like I left a little on the table. Still, the gap that we had on people and the fact that we got the track record made me feel a little optimistic. And then it wasn't long after that Junior took us down."
Kyle Busch, who won the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky in 2011, grabbed the fourth starting position, while Marcos Ambrose took the fifth spot.
Denny Hamlin qualified sixth, followed by Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski, the defending series champion and last year's race winner at Kentucky. Brian Vickers and Juan Pablo Montoya completed the top-10.
Danica Patrick will start 29th after posting a lap at 178.944 mph.
All 43 drivers who attempted qualifying made the starting field for Saturday's 400-mile race at Kentucky, which is scheduled to start just after 7:30 p.m. ET.