BRISTOL, Tenn. — In a twist from the first two races of the weekend, Erik Jones came away from Friday evening’s knockout qualifying session at Bristol Motor Speedway with his first-career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coors Light Pole Award.
After Kyle Busch won the Truck and XFINITY poles at Bristol, Jones soared to the top of the charts in the final round of Cup qualifying, with a lap of 14.981 seconds (128.082 mph) in his No. 77 5-Hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota.
Fittingly, Jones’ first pole comes on a short track, not unlike those that he began his career on.
But more importantly — at least in the driver’s eyes — it came on a track with as much history as what the Bristol high banks carry.
“This is awesome,” said the 21-year-old native of Byron, Michigan. “It’s cool any time you get your first pole in a series, but to do it at Bristol … that’s just really cool. I’m excited we’ve got such a fast 5-Hour Energy Camry. We had a good week last week and we’ve done a good job of keeping the momentum going so far, so I’m hoping for a good night tomorrow.”
Jones sits outside the playoffs with three races remaining before the cutoff at Richmond, but knows that a win Saturday night would dramatically change his fate.
His pole on Friday set that quest off to a flying start.
“Obviously, we’re excited to get the race going now,” Jones added. “Track position is huge here … pit stops and pit selection are both important, so to have a good pit stall and have a good starting spot are great for us. I’ve been saying every week that we just need to have a solid weekend. We need to qualify well, have good pit stops and race well. We’ve checked off a few of those things so far, and we just need to keep it going now.”
Utilizing the high side of the race track — a strategy that was surprising to most onlookers due to the VHT traction compound on the bottom groove — Kyle Larson gave Jones a challenge for the top spot on the grid, but fell .003 of a second short in the No. 42 Huggies Little Movers Chevrolet.
Larson timed in at 14.984 seconds (128.057 mph), and thought that his alternate line might lead him to success after finding speed up top in the second round.
“I kinda wanted to outsmart everyone there in that final round,” Larson admitted. “I was trying to beat them up top, when they were all stuck on the bottom. Wish I could have gone a few thoushandths faster, but second’s not bad. I really wanted that pole there, because I was doing something different than everybody else, but we’ll start on the front row tomorrow and hopefully be there at the end.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott were third and fourth, respectively, with Matt Kenseth completing the Fast Five.
Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray and Daniel Suarez made up the remainder of the 12 drivers who advanced through all three knockout rounds.
Ryan Newman missed transferring into the final round by .018 of a second, timing in 13th-quick in round two with a lap of 15.100 seconds (127.073 mph) in the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet.
Other heavy-hitters eliminated in the 10-minute second round included Chris Buescher (15th), who announced a multi-year contract extension with JTG Daugherty Racing earlier in the day; Brad Keselowski (17th); and seven-time and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson (21st).
Busch’s quest to sweep qualifying for the weekend ended with a disappointing 18th-place qualifying effort.
His older brother Kurt Busch was the first driver below the cut line at the end of round one, posting the 25th-fastest lap of 15.194 seconds (126.287 mph) in the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford for Stewart Haas Racing.
However, perhaps the most notable names from the first elimination were Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will start 29th and 30th, respectively, in Saturday night’s 500-lap marathon.
Earnhardt is making his final Bristol Night Race start this weekend, and won the event in 2004.
The Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway takes the green flag at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, live on NBC, the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
RESULTS: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series; Coors Light Pole Qualifying; Bristol Motor Speedway; Aug. 18, 2017
- Erik Jones
- Kyle Larson
- Kasey Kahne
- Chase Elliott
- Matt Kenseth
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Denny Hamlin
- Joey Logano
- Clint Bowyer
- Ryan Blaney
- Jamie McMurray
- Daniel Suarez
- Ryan Newman
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Chris Buescher
- Austin Dillon
- Brad Keselowski
- Kyle Busch
- David Ragan
- Trevor Bayne
- Jimmie Johnson
- Ty Dillon
- A.J. Allmendinger
- Danica Patrick
- Kurt Busch
- Michael McDowell
- Paul Menard
- Aric Almirola
- Kevin Harvick
- J.J. Yeley
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Cole Whitt
- Landon Cassill
- Matt DiBenedetto
- Corey LaJoie
- B.J. McLeod
- Gray Gaulding
- Jeffrey Earnhardt
- Reed Sorenson
- Joey Gase
DNQ: Timmy Hill
About the Writer
James Pike is a multi-faceted reporter for Race Chaser Online and an analyst on the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Pike is the lead correspondent for Race Chaser Online’s coverage of Australian Supercars and also covers regional touring series events in the Carolinas, including the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and the CARS Tour.
He is a graduate of the Motorsports Management program at Belmont Abbey College and currently resides in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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