Austin Dillon speeds to pole position at Talladega

Picking up significant speed from the first round of knockout qualifying to the second, Austin Dillon won the pole for Sunday’s GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Covering the 2.66-mile distance in 49.734 seconds (192.544 mph) in his No. 3 Chevrolet, Dillon edged first-round leader Aric Almirola (192.131 mph) for the top starting spot by .107 seconds. In Saturday’s first round, Dillon had run 192.108 mph to Almirola’s 192.324 mph.

The Busch Pole Award was Dillon’s first at Talladega, his second of the season and the fifth of his career.

Clint Bowyer qualified third at 191.723 mph, followed by Brad Keselowski and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Daniel Hemric, Dillon’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing.

The final round featured six Chevrolet drivers and six Ford drivers. Martin Truex Jr. will start 20th in the fastest-qualifying Toyota. Ford drivers have won the last seven Talladega races.

Dillon’s pole run came on his 29th birthday. It was the first Talladega pole for the No. 3 car since Dale Earnhardt, a 10-time winner at the track, claimed the top starting spot in 1994. Richard Childress Racing is celebrating its 50th year in the sport and Talladega its 50th year as a NASCAR track.

“It’s RCR’s 50th Anniversary, and my grandfather (team owner Richard Childress) takes a lot of pride in these speedway races,” Dillon said. “To come here and get a pole, we felt like we had a car capable of doing that… And, man, it’s all of these guys (the team).

“I didn’t do nothing. Just holding the wheel straight. I did hold the wheel straight. I guess I did that. Fun times. Sunday is when it matters, though. We’d love to get a win and lock ourselves in the Playoffs, because these races are ones that you can really take advantage of because there’s a lot of points to get out there. And that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.”

Almirola thought his final-round run might have been affected by a gust of wind.

“I think we got pretty close to backing up what we ran in the first round there, but I felt like the wind picked up a little bit more,” Almirola said. “I don’t know if that was it, or what the case was. All in all, it was a great run for us. I’m happy about starting on the front row with good track position to start the race and a good pit stall. All those things matter.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start sixth, followed by Ryan Blaney, three-time Talladega winner and reigning series champion Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Michael McDowell.

Kevin Harvick earned the 19th pot on the grid, and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 21st.