CONCORD, N.C. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images North America photo —
Move over, Kevin Harvick. Joe Gibbs Racing is back.
Led by the wily veteran of their four-man lineup, 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, the powerhouse team rolled right to the top of Coors Light Pole Qualifying on Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with Kenseth notching his career-best fourth Sprint Cup pole of the season in the final round of knockout qualifying.
Kenseth toured the 1.5-mile CMS oval in 27.759 seconds, for an average speed of 194.532 mph on his one and only lap in the final session. The pole was the 17th of Kenseth’s career, second at Charlotte and marked a season sweep of poles for the Wisconsin native at CMS.
“I’m really proud of my guys,” said Kenseth, who led both the second and third rounds of qualifying. “They brought some speed this weekend. All our cars brought speed this weekend, but we’re still working on our stuff to get faster. We realize the competition is doing the same thing and trying to get faster.”
“I knew [the lap] was going to be real fast. I didn’t know we were going to sit on the pole by any means, but it had the feel and everything that I wanted. It’s funny, this place, if you can get it to drive just like you want, you can really perform well here, but it’s so hard to get that feel. Today though, (crew chief) Jason [Ratcliff] got it to drive that way. I was going to have to mess it up to not get it, as good as he had it there.”
His teammate Kyle Busch (27.957/193.154) made it a one-two punch for JGR and an all-Toyota front row heading into Saturday’s Bank of America 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM).
“I don’t know [what else we could have done],” Busch admitted after his run. “Man, that Matt Kenseth, he’s just better than us right now. Our Toyota is awesome though, so hopefully we can keep the speed going in tomorrow’s two practices and have a shot at this thing on Saturday night.”
The driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota is also searching for his first career Sprint Cup victory in NASCAR’s backyard — he’s finished second at Charlotte three times, most recently in the 2011 running of the Bank of America 500.
“I hope it’s coming,” Busch, who is an eight-time NASCAR XFINITY Series winner at Charlotte, added. “We’ve been close here before, just haven’t had that last little bit for whatever reason. Hopefully we can change that over the 500 miles Saturday.”
A pair of Fords make up the second row on the grid for the main event, with Team Penske’s Joey Logano (27.976/193.023) narrowly outpacing Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle (27.987/192.947) in the intra-manufacturer battle. Denny Hamlin (27.992/192.912) rounded out the fast five in another JGR-prepared Toyota.
Starting positions six through 10 went to Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Aric Almirola and Ryan Newman. Busch was the fastest Chevrolet that made it into all three knockout rounds, while Edwards’ run gave JGR four of the top eight spots on the grid.
Kevin Harvick was a disappointing 11th after leading practice earlier in the day and topping the first round of qualifying, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the dozen drivers who competed in the pole round of time trials.
2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski was the first driver who failed to make it to the final round, despite posting a top five speed in the opening round. His speed of 191.618 mph was only good enough for 13th on the grid, where he will roll off in search of his second Charlotte Chase race win in the past three seasons.
Keselowski was joined by Martin Truex Jr. (15th), Ryan Blaney (16th) and Jeff Gordon (22nd), making his final Charlotte Cup appearance, in the class of big names who failed to transfer to the final round of knockout qualifications.
Harvick’s top speed in the opening round was 192.685 mph, ahead of Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Kenseth. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the first driver who failed to advance out of round one and will start 25th as a result in his No. 17 Ford.
Other notables who did not make the opening cut included Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates teammates Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, starting 30th and 31st, respectively; Trevor Bayne (33rd) and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, who will start 36th after announcing last Wednesday that 2016 will be his final season at the premier series level.
Josh Wise and Timmy Hill were the two drivers who failed to qualify for Saturday night’s event.
Sprint Cup teams will have two opportunities on Friday to feel out their cars for the Bank of America 500, with practices at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. live on NBCSN.
RESULTS: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; Coors Light Pole Qualifying; Charlotte Motor Speedway; October 8, 2015
- Matt Kenseth
- Kyle Busch
- Joey Logano
- Greg Biffle
- Denny Hamlin
- Kurt Busch
- Jimmie Johnson
- Carl Edwards
- Aric Almirola
- Ryan Newman
- Kevin Harvick
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Brad Keselowski
- Austin Dillon
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Ryan Blaney
- A.J. Allmendinger
- Sam Hornish Jr.
- David Ragan
- Kasey Kahne
- Casey Mears
- Jeff Gordon
- Clint Bowyer
- Danica Patrick
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Paul Menard
- Alex Bowman
- Justin Allgaier
- David Gilliland
- Jamie McMurray
- Kyle Larson
- Michael McDowell
- Trevor Bayne
- Landon Cassill
- J.J. Yeley
- Tony Stewart
- Brett Moffitt
- Michael Annett
- Cole Whitt
- Matt DiBenedetto
- Jeb Burton
- Reed Sorenson
- Alex Kennedy
DNQ: Josh Wise, Timmy Hill
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: email@example.com
Follow Race Chaser Online: @RaceChaserNews