KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Just as they’ve done so many times in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this season, Joe Gibbs Racing locked out the qualifying podium in Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series time trials at Kansas Speedway.
However, the difference between which of their drivers collected the Coors Light Pole Award came down to an eyelash.
The top man in town was Matt Kenseth, who toured the 1.5-mile oval in 28.112 seconds (192.089 mph) in the No. 20 DeWalt FlexVolt Toyota to notch his 18th career Sprint Cup pole and first of the season.
Kenseth, who led rounds one and three barely edged out teammate Kyle Busch, with the difference between the two being .001 of a second at the end of their qualifying laps.
“It’s nice to get a pole,” Kenseth smiled. “I feel like our qualifying hasn’t been nearly as good or consistent this year as it was in any of the other years I’ve been at JGR, so I was glad to get it. We barely got it, only by a thousandth, but Jason made all the right adjustments. We were just right in the final round and it was a good a lap as I was going to run – the team did a great job.”
Busch, who led the second round with the fastest lap of the day, ultimately was second in the final round at a time of 28.113 seconds (192.082 mph).
“We lost it in turn two,” Busch said of the difference between himself and Kenseth in the final round. “The car was really good in the second round, and in the third round it had the same exact balance but I just didn’t plan for it well enough, I guess. I messed up off turn two … and had to breathe (the throttle). Thought I was going to get it back in (turns) three and four, but the start/finish line was just in the wrong spot.”
Carl Edwards was the third JGR driver in the mix, posting the third-fastest lap (28.270/191.015) and starting alongside Toyota stablemate Martin Truex Jr. (28.304/190.786), who made it a sweep of the top four for the Japanese manufacturer at the end of qualifying.
Alex Bowman rounded out the top five and was the fastest Chevrolet, ahead of Chasers Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.
Non-Chasers Ryan Newman and A.J. Allmendinger completed the top 10, with Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon rounding out the dozen drivers who made it through all three knockout rounds.
Chase Elliott led the trio of Chase contenders who failed to make the cut for the third and final round, slotting in 13th-quick (28.428/189.954) behind the wheel of the No. 24 SunEnergy1 Chevrolet.
Elliott rolled onto the track for a second run, but failed to get back to the start/finish line before the 10 minute clock expired in round two.
“The car wanted to turn, but it just wouldn’t,” Elliott admitted. “We just spent time trying to get it freed up so that it would go a little faster. We missed it a little bit (on the setup), unfortunately, but we’ll get after it tomorrow in the practice sessions and try to get a little better.”
Kurt Busch (15th) and Jimmie Johnson (21st) were the other remaining championship-eligible drivers who failed to make the final round and run for the pole.
Also disappointing were the Chip Ganassi Racing teammates of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, who will roll off the grid from 23rd and 24th, respectively.
Trevor Bayne was the first man out at the end of the opening 20-minute round, slotting in 25th with a time of 28.666 seconds (188.376 mph) in his No. 6 AdvoCare Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.
“Oh man. We made some mistakes on our run,” Bayne admitted. “We went out early, which was a bad idea because now we have all this grandstand cover and it cooled off quite a bit. That was our first mistake. The second time, we went out when it was cool and we thought the (No.) 38 car (Landon Cassill) was done and he was not. I blended right behind him and was just in dirty air. In practice, we had a great race car, though … so I’m looking forward to the rest of this weekend.”
Former Chaser Chris Buescher (30th) and Clint Bowyer (31st) were other big names who were eliminated in round one.
The only incident of qualifying came with 14 minutes and 42 seconds remaining in the opening round, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got into the wall exiting turn four on his first qualifying run. He was able to rally after repairs, however, and ultimately timed in 18th at the end of round two.
Sprint Cup teams will return to the track on Saturday for two practice sessions, at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. ET, respectively. Happy Hour practice will be televised live on NBCSN.