BROOKLYN, Mich. — On the debut afternoon for Disney-Pixar’s Cars 3, Kyle Larson took a paint scheme reminiscent of title character Lightning McQueen to the top spot in qualifying at Michigan Int’l Speedway.
Larson stole the top spot out from under Martin Truex Jr.’s nose, posting the fastest lap of the day around the two-mile oval at 35.616 seconds (202.156 mph) and securing his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season.
The Elk Grove, Calif. native waited until the last possible moment to go out in the final, five-minute knockout round, and it paid off with his third-career Cup pole.
“We made some good adjustments for that final round. I was pretty good the first round and pretty tight the second round, but we got it back to being a little freer in the final round,” Larson said. “The Cars 3 Chevy drove good. I could tell by the RPM and the engine that it was going to be a pretty good lap, I was happy about that to get the pole after winning here last year. So far, it’s been a really good weekend, we were fastest in practice and then getting the quick time here, so exciting weekend and hopefully we can keep it going.”
For the third consecutive race, Truex qualified second, timing in at 35.623 seconds (202.117 mph) in his No. 78 Auto-Owner’s Insurance Toyota and missing the pole by .007 of a second.
“Man, I’m a little disappointed; I thought we had it there … but Kyle went out late and got us,” Truex said. “It was a good day, though. I’m really excited to have Auto Owners Insurance back on the car this weekend; they’ve been a good luck charm for us. We’ve won two out the last four races running this blue car so, we’re excited about that and we’ll see what we can do.”
“We stayed in qualifying trim all day (in practice). That strategy just seems to suit us … staying focused on one thing until we get it right, then switching over and doing race stuff. I’m looking forward to racing here in Michigan and hopefully we can have a good weekend.”
Clint Bowyer was the fastest Ford in third (35.703/201.664), giving all three manufacturers representation among the top three in the pole round and notching his best qualifying effort of the year so far.
Kyle Busch, winner of the last two Cup poles entering Michigan, qualified fourth ahead of fellow Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.
Pocono winner Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski completed the dozen drivers who made it through all three knockout rounds.
Harvick topped the first two rounds of qualifying, but fell off when it mattered most and could not hold on to sweep qualifying for the fourth time in his career.
Jimmie Johnson found himself pushed below the cut line as the red and black flags flew to end round two, bounced by Kenseth and forced to start 13th (35.945/200.306) in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet as a result.
“We ran basically the same speed and I was hopeful to go a little faster on scuffed tires,” Johnson explained. I had a bobble down in (Turns) 3 and 4 … so I should have probably gone about two or three tenths faster than what I did. That is what we needed to keep up with the fast guys.”
“Unfortunately, just missed it by a little bit there on that second round and we were in a discussion sitting at the end of pit road if I should go. We thought we were going to be fine and then to get nipped at the end, certainly just more frustration, but part of racing.”
Other notables eliminated in the second round were Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch (15th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (17th), rookie Daniel Suarez (20th) and Danica Patrick (23rd).
Chris Buescher was bumped out in the final moments of the opening knockout round, landing 25th with a lap of 36.451 seconds (197.525 mph) in his No. 37 Kingsford Chevrolet.
Other drivers mired in the pack behind Buescher include his teammate A.J. Allmendinger (26th); Darrell Wallace Jr. (27th), who is making his second-career Cup start; Trevor Bayne (28th) and Paul Menard (31st).
Landon Cassill’s team was in the process of pulling their backup car together after issues earlier in the day, and as such, Cassill did not make a qualifying attempt. He will start 37th on Sunday.
Full qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…