SPARTA, Ky. — The questions during NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying Friday were how many drivers would raise Kentucky Speedway's record and by how much.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. provided the answer of the eight that broke it, clocking 183.636 mph to wrest the mark from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and the pole for tonight's race.
Earnhardt's speed was nearly 2 mph faster than Johnson's 181.818 mph last June, which he needed to keep Johnson from keeping the record.
Minutes before, Johnson had a lap at 183.144 mph to hold off Ryan Newman (182.254). Earnhardt set the standard in the No. 88 Chevy soon after and survived several furious attempts to unseat him before coming away with his 12th career pole and first at Kentucky.
Carl Edwards (183.306 mph) eventually grabbed the outside front in the No. 99 Ford. Johnson settled for third with Kyle Busch (182.593) fourth in a Toyota.
Marcos Ambrose (182.587) qualified fifth in a Ford and will start alongside Denny Hamlin, whose No. 11 Toyota ran 182.340 mph. The final two over 182 mph were Newman and defending race winner and Cup champion Brad Keselowski (182.192).
"I thought we had a good car in practice," Earnhardt said, "and we got some cloud cover. That gave us an opportunity to run a good lap."
Drivers felt as if a track record was possible with NASCAR's new Gen 6 car, even on Kentucky's bumpy surface. Anticipation grew even more with cooler-than-expected temperatures and intermittent clouds, and several drivers gave chase to Johnson's mark early in the session.
Johnson, the series points leader, promptly raised the bar higher with a speed that seemed to put the pole and the record out of reach even with two-thirds of qualifying remaining. Newman gave chase and briefly had the second spot before settling for a solid berth in the field.
"I feel good," said Johnson, who checked his No. 48 Chevy for damage after hitting one of the truck's bumps and going airborne. "I felt (turns) one and two went really well. (Turns) three and four, I thought maybe I could have been a little faster through there."
At Sparta, Ky., Brad Keselowski took his final lead on the 156th lap and went on to a rain-shortened victory at Kentucky Speedway.
Showers halted the race at lap 170 in the scheduled 200-lap event, but drivers were expecting it to resume before another pocket of rain forced officials to call it off. Keselowski settled for doing victory spinouts, being careful to avoid sliding into the wall on a night mostly spent on firm footing.
A night after finishing second in the Truck Series race, the Sprint Cup champion led four times for 59 laps en route to his second series victory here in three years. Elliott Sadler was second, followed by Truck Series points leader Matt Crafton, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch.
Series points leader Regan Smith saw his 28-point advantage over Justin Allgaier coming in whacked to an eight-point edge over Sam Hornish Jr. after an engine problem that forced him behind the wall and left him 30th, 17 laps down.
At Joliet, Ill., John Force topped Funny Car qualifying in the Route 66 NHRA Nationals with a run of 4.035 seconds at 314.02 mph in a Ford Mustang.
The 64-year-old Force raced to his record 135th career victory two weeks ago in Bristol, Tenn., and lost to daughter Courtney Force last week in the final in Epping, N.H.
NHRA officials canceled one of the two qualifying sessions scheduled for Friday because of rain.
Series leader Matt Hagan was second with a 4.040 at 317.19 in a Dodge Charger, and defending series champion Jack Beckman qualified third in a Charger with a 4.043 at 313.15.
Tony Schumacher led the Top Fuel field, Mike Edwards topped the Pro Stock order, and Medford's Scotty Pollacheck led in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Schumacher, from nearby Long Grove, had a run of 3.772 at 325.45, edging Doug Kalitta for the spot.