RICHMOND, Va. — Matt Kenseth picked up right where he left off in the spring during Coors Light Pole Qualifying at Richmond Raceway.
With his playoff hopes on the line, Kenseth ran a lap of 22.055 seconds (122.421 mph) to complete the Richmond pole sweep in 2017. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led a race-high 164 laps in April’s race before a cut tire while running in the top-five derailed any chance at winning.
“We were tight the second round,” Kenseth said about his run. “We kind of jumped the fence and were too loose there, it was real fast in the middle but I was real guarded entry, real guarded exit so I didn’t think that was going to have enough speed. I didn’t think that was a fast-enough lap time to get the pole so these guys did a great job letting me drive this thing. Hopefully, we can finish it off this time and get a win.”
Kenseth came close to victory at Watkins Glen in a fuel-mileage duel with Martin Truex Jr., but fell within a few car lengths short once the checkered flag flew. He also ran up front at Michigan and Bristol until either a poor restart or wrong adjustment kept the 2003 cup champ from finding victory lane this year.
“We’ve been running pretty good the last few months. I mean, we haven’t been able to break through and get the win like we liked to have, got crashed out at Michigan. Other than that, we’ve been up there in the mix. Things just haven’t fell our way, we haven’t been able to quite get it lined up to get the victory. certainly, we’ve been running a lot better lately and hopefully we can do all the right things here. We got a lot of speed in our Camry so hopefully do the right things and be up there at the end of the race.”
Recent Darlington winner Denny Hamlin starts alongside his JGR teammate after an eventful week for the No. 11 team. Not only was his Southern 500 victory encumbered after officials found an illegal-rear suspension on the Toyota Wednesday, but also his No. 18 XFINITY car also failed post-race inspection in R&D after his weekend sweep.
Nevertheless, Hamlin’s time of 22.081 seconds Friday evening was good enough to join Kenseth on the front row for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400. Hamlin is also the defending winner of the race as he tries for a fourth Cup win at his home track.
Kurt Busch (122.266 mph) paced the Ford camp in third as Kyle Larson (122.006 mph) did the same for Chevrolet (fourth). The top-four qualifiers all eclipsed the 122 mph barrier in the final round.
Regular-season champ Martin Truex Jr. (121.984 mph) rounded out the top-five in Coors Light Pole Qualifying.
Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Elliott and Erik Jones completed the rest of the top-10. Elliott sits on the playoff bubble while Jones needs a win to race his way into the 10-race playoff.
Staying on the subject of bubble drivers, spring Richmond winner Joey Logano was 12th as Clint Bowyer missed the final round of qualifying in 13th.
“Our Rush Truck Centers Ford was way too loose to be able to go as fast as we wanted to,” Bowyer said. “You’re kind of up against that deal now where you get a lot of laps on your tires, you’re going to need those when you get into that race. You know it’s probably going to be a long run, it always is right off the bat so I’m fine with where I’m at right now.”
Daniel Suarez qualified 16th in his No. 19 ARRIS Toyota as three playoff spots remain before the checkered flag falls on Saturday night’s race at Richmond Raceway.
The green flag for the Federated Auto Parts 400 drops shortly after 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90)
Full qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…