April 5, 2014 — report by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway photo — FORT WORTH, TX — While Tony Stewart was recovering, the Twitter trend that his team sparked was #SmokeWillRise.
After his qualifying effort on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, they need to change that to “Smoke Has Risen”.
Stewart, in his seventh start since returning this season following a broken leg that sidelined him for the second half of the 2013 season, topped all challengers in the final Sprint Cup knockout qualifying session on Saturday afternoon, posting a lap of 27.628 seconds (195.454 mph) as the clock expired to unseat Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski and score the Coors Light Pole Award for the first time in 2014.
The pole is Stewart’s first pole since September of 2012 at Atlanta, his second pole at Texas and the 15th Coors Light Pole of his Sprint Cup career.
“This thing was fast every round, but I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to held on,” the three-time champion said following qualifying. “It felt really fast the whole lap until turn three when it got really loose and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to hold on.”
“We really didn’t know what we could run the third time, but I knew what (Greg) Biffle had run,” added Stewart, a two-time Sprint Cup winner at Texas. “The good thing is Chad Johnston (crew chief) made a really big change there to try and make it better. Like he said, ‘I was either going to make you quick, or I was going to make you 12th.’ I’m glad he made the change. He’s got a lot of confidence and I really like that. We’re on the pole because of it.”
Stewart became the seventh different pole winner in seven races this season, the longest streak of different pole winners to start a season since 1998, when eight different drivers sat on the pole in the first eight races of the season.
Keselowski hung on to the second position at the conclusion of qualifying, posting a fast lap of 27.633 seconds (195.419 mph) to grab the outside pole, his fifth front-row start in seven races this season, but fourth time starting second.
“I thought we had it,” Keselowski said, “but that’s why they do it this way. It’s really exciting, and, I think, a lot of fun to watch. … We came up short, but we still have a lot to be proud of. We’re starting on the front row, and (on Sunday we need) to make that count. Hopefully, we can pull that off.”
“We did a lot of practice in race trim and not a lot in qualifying trim, so I guess that’s a good omen.”
Stewart’s teammate Kevin Harvick set a track record lap of 27.234 seconds (198.282 mph) in the first session, the fastest lap ever at a 1.5 mile speedway, but will start third on Sunday after posting a lap of 27.650 seconds (195.298 mph) in the final round.
Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five on the grid for Sunday afternoon’s 500-mile event. Biffle was fastest in the second session with a lap of 196.235 mph.
Denny Hamlin was the highest-qualifying Toyota driver in sixth, with Trevor Bayne making a surprising run through the knockout qualifying session to place seventh in the Wood Brothers Racing Ford. Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, and Joey Logano completed the top ten, and Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon made up the rest of the twelve drivers who advanced to the final round of qualifying.
Paul Menard (13th) was the first driver to miss the cut for the final round of qualifying, while six-time and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson failed to advance to the final round for the first time this season, leaving Joey Logano as the only driver who has made it to the final round of every knockout session this season. Johnson will start 16th on Sunday.
“We’re really surprised not to have pace here in qualifying,” Johnson said of his disappointing run. “We have a very fast race car, in race trim especially. Our car is blazing fast. Qualifying hasn’t always been my strong suit, and today it showed up here for whatever reason. We’ll get her cleaned up and get her ready for the race on Sunday.”
“We felt like we had a very good understanding of things, and we spent a lot of time this afternoon working on old tire runs because we were so good in race trim and we just missed it (for qualifying). Everybody else picked up a lot more speed than we did, so we will have to dig in deep and try and understand why.”
J.J. Yeley, Joe Nemechek, Ryan Truex and David Stremme were the four drivers who failed to qualify for the race.
The Duck Commander 500 takes the green flag from Texas tomorrow afternoon at 3 PM Eastern time, with live coverage on FOX, PRN Radio and SiriusXM Channel 90.