TALLADEGA, Ala. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the pole for his final scheduled Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Earnhardt is retiring from full-time competition at the end of the season, and the Alabama crowd has always embraced NASCAR’s most popular driver. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has declared race day ‘‘Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day’’ across the state.
The field will be led to green by Donnie Allison, a two-time Talladega winner and original member of the Alabama Gang, while driving the late Dale Earnhardt’s No. 2 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Talladega officials presented Earnhardt Jr. with the car, which his father raced during his 1979 rookie season, as well as some races during his 1980 championship season, as a retirement gift.
Now, with the pole for Sunday’s Alabama 500 — the first of his career at Talladega — it has turned into quite the special weekend for Earnhardt.
‘‘This place has meant a lot to me,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s awesome to hear those fans happy for us and hopefully we’re going to give them a lot more to cheer about before this weekend is over.’’
Could he add a seventh victory?
‘‘Certainly,’’ he grinned. ‘‘You think about that every time you suit up and get in the car, you imagine if that’s going to be the day you get a win. But, this would be a real important one if we could win for all the fans, all year long, we certainly owe them a win.’’
Earnhardt is winless this season and didn’t make the playoffs. He’s got just six races left before he turns over his No. 88 Chevrolet to Hendrick Motorsports and replacement driver Alex Bowman.
On Saturday, Earnhardt turned a lap at 190.544 miles per hour to knock teammate Chase Elliott from the top starting spot. Elliott wound up second with a lap at 190.412 miles per hour in a Hendrick Motorsports sweep of the front row.
Joey Logano was third in a Team Penske Ford, followed by Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer. Ford drivers took positions third through seventh.
It was a rough qualifying effort for Toyota, with none of its playoff contenders advancing to the final 12. That’s an odd development considering Toyota drivers have won the first four playoff races.