CUP: Kenseth Starts Rebound With Coors Light Pole At Richmond

Kyle Magda Cup, Featured 0 Comments

Matt Kenseth celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award at Richmond Int’l Raceway on Friday. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

RICHMOND, Va. — After a slow start to his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Matt Kenseth finally got his Joe Gibbs Racing team heading in the right direction on Friday, notching the pole at Richmond Int’l Raceway.

Fresh off a fourth-place finish in Bristol on Monday, Kenseth toured the .75-mile oval in 22.300 seconds (121.076 mph) to put his No. 20 Circle K Toyota Camry on top of the pylon in the third and final round of qualifying.

“Those guys did a really good job today adjusting between rounds,” said Kenseth of his 19th career pole, second at Richmond and first of the season. “We had enough speed in our Circle K Camry that we only had to do one lap each of the first two rounds to get us into the third round … and we improved on our second lap. It was a good qualifying effort for us, and it feels good to be on the pole.”

Kenseth’s time improved in each of the three rounds of qualifying, and the 2003 Cup champion hopes that’s a sign that his sluggish early season form is fading away.

“This year has not been a good year for us so far. We finished strong at Bristol, but we didn’t get to qualify because of the rain and that put us in the middle of the pack there and (at) Martinsville. We don’t have any stage points; we’re buried in the points back there and we finally got a decent finish there last week … so hopefully this week we can start up front and stay up front.”

Ryan Blaney’s Wood Brothers Ford starts alongside Kenseth, as Blaney earned his third runner-up starting spot of the year, leading the Ford camp.

“On the last lap of that last session we moved up,” Blaney said. “I wish we would’ve done it both laps the last session so I knew how hard to go, because I went in there shallow the second lap and I regretted it right away. … I tried to get more and it cost us some time off [Turn] 2.”

“[Turns] 3 and 4 we went through there really good … but I guess a bunch of other cars did that and they picked up too. I thought it was a solid effort. It wasn’t great the first round, but we’ve been getting better each round. We’ve got a lot of second-place starts … and I really want to race the Clash at Daytona. That’s my biggest thing right now.”

Las Vegas winner Martin Truex Jr. slotted in third (120.681 mph) after being fastest in Friday’s only practice, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Joey Logano was fastest in the first two rounds, but faded on his last run and starts fifth on Sunday.

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Daniel Suarez and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the first six rows of the grid and all made it through to the third round.

Ryan Newman was the quickest man who failed to advance to the final round, posting a time of 22.557 seconds (119.697 mph) in his No. 31 Chevrolet. The Phoenix winner will start 13th on Sunday.

Other notables eliminated in round two included Brad Keselowski (15th), seven-time series champion and back-to-back race winner Jimmie Johnson (17th), points leader Kyle Larson (18th) and current leading rookie Erik Jones (20th).

Aric Almirola’s Ford was the first car below the cut line in round one, with a lap of 22.674 seconds (119.079 mph) placing him 25th on the grid for Sunday afternoon’s race.

Austin Dillon, who failed the pre-race laser inspection station five times last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway and was penalized with loss of his qualifying position as a result, took one slow lap around the .75-mile oval and timed in slowest among the 38 cars in attendance.

On-track action for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams resumes Saturday at 9 a.m., with the first of two practice sessions at the three-quarter-mile oval.

With less than 40 cars on the grounds, all drivers qualified for Sunday’s race.

Full qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…

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