Historic start for Blaney: Hartford native Dave Blaney will be making his 250th career Nextel Cup career start today from the pole after posting a qualifying lap of 129.437 mph in the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota. It’s Blaney’s second Cup career pole and the first for Toyota in Nextel Cup.

Gaining ground: Toyota officials were buoyed by the Blaney’s pole winning performance Friday. “For Toyota, it’s another step in our process of slow gains that we’re making every day,” said Andy Graves, senior manager for Toyota Racing Development in NASCAR. “Hopefully, it will provide some momentum for all of our organizations as we get ready to move into the second half of the season.”

Interim crew chiefs set: Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will both have a new voice in their ear during today’s race. The Hendrick Motorsports teammates are beginning a six-race stint without crew chiefs Steve Letarte (Gordon) and Chad Knaus (Johnson). Both were suspended for six weeks and fined $100,000 in the aftermath of their cars failing inspection last week at Sonoma, Calif. In both cases, the deep Hendrick team — with more than 500 employees to choose from — decided to name the car chiefs on Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet and Johnson’s No. 48 as interim crew chiefs. Jeff Meendering will take over on top of the pit box for Letarte and Ron Malec will do the same for Knaus, while also continuing to go over the wall during pit stops in his role as tire changer.

Speed chart: Having new crew chiefs certainly hasn’t slowed down Johnson and Gordon. Those two, along with rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, led the way in the final practice Saturday. Johnson was fastest with a lap of 127.102 mph, followed by Montoya, winner of last Sunday’s road race at Sonoma, at 126.897 and Gordon at 126.783. Also among the fastest on Saturday were Kevin Harvick at 126.761, Clint Bowyer at 126.694, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, both at 126.505, and Blaney at 126.479.

Combined dispatches

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