Gordon turned in a lap around the 1.5-mile oval in 191.544 mph. It was his first pole since last November in Texas and the 69th of his career. He moved into a tie for third place with Cale Yarborough on the all-time pole winners list.
During the final practice for qualifying, Gordon was only the 33rd quickest.
"I'm just in shock," Gordon said. "You look at our practice speeds and how hard we were trying to run fast laps. I actually think it was a blessing that we weren't good in practice today, because we were really hoping the track would come to us."
Carl Edwards, who is seventh on the points list, qualified second at 191.455 mph. A.J. Allmendinger, Mark Martin and Paul Menard rounded out the first five qualifiers.
Jimmie Johnson, who leads the championship chase and is bidding for his fifth consecutive title, qualified 10th. Johnson has a 36-point advantage over Denny Hamlin, who qualified 23rd.