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Gilliland gets first career pole at Talladega

   TALLADEGA, Ala. — David Gilliland had to fight to get NASCAR approval to race at Talladega Superspeedway.
    That battle two months ago was worth it.
    Gilliland won the pole Saturday, posting a lap of 191.712 mph in his Robert Yates Racing Ford. His speed was far off the 198.689 that Jeff Gordon posted during practice, but NASCAR mandated smaller restrictor plates to slow the speeds before Sunday’s race.
    ‘‘They threw a curveball at us this morning with the restrictor plate, but (car owner) Doug Yates wasn’t worried at all,’’ Gilliland said. ‘‘He put the super-tune on it he told me and the thing ran great. I’m just real proud of the guys.
    ‘‘It’s a pleasure to drive one of their cars, especially here. They’ve got a great track record here and it’s just a pleasure to drive one.’’
    Indeed, the No. 38 Ford will start from the pole for the third consecutive race. Elliott Sadler took the top starting spot in the same car last October and again in May.
    But Sadler opted out of his contract with Yates, and moved to a new ride with Evernham Motorsports eight races ago. It opened the seat for Gilliland, who had never raced on a superspeedway before and had to get clearance from NASCAR to race here this weekend in just his ninth career start.
    He got it right before his debut at Michigan, and will now lead the field to the green flag on Sunday.
    Dale Jarrett, the defending race winner and Gilliland’s temporary teammate, will start second. He’s leaving RYR at the end of the season to drive a Toyota for Michael Waltrip.
    Jarrett thinks Gilliland will do fine.
    ‘‘He’s got a lot of talent,’’ Jarrett said. ‘‘It wasn’t like Doug or Robert went out and grabbed the first person they could fine. They were keeping their eye on a lot of people out there and I think he showed that he can be fast at some race tracks already, and that’s something that I’m not sure you can teach.’’
    Jimmie Johnson, who won here in May, will start third as he searches for his third restrictor-plate victory of the season. He needs it to help his championship hopes; he’s currently eighth in the Chase for the championship standings.
    ‘‘I still think we are in position to race our way back into this,’’ said Johnson.
    Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s teammate, qualified fourth and was followed by Greg Biffle.
    The other Chase drivers were all over the map: points leader Jeff Burton was 34th, Denny Hamlin 12th, Mark Martin 30th, Matt Kenseth 19th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 33rd, Kyle Busch sixth and Kasey Kahne was 25th.

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