Austin Dillon may not be among the Chase drivers anymore, but that doesn’t mean who can’t steal their spotlight. Dillon put down a lap of 192.301 with under 2 minutes to go in the final five minute round of qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway Friday night knocking Joey Logano off the top spot and securing the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA Texas 500.
“Man, that’s huge!” Dillon said. “I can’t be happier for RCR and everybody back at the shop. A lot of hard work and effort goes on.”
The pole was the second of the Richard Childress Racing driver’s career, the first coming at Auto Club Speedway. Behind Logano, Kevin Harvick who led the lone practice session on Friday and the first two qualifying sessions could only manage third. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson round out the top five.
“That is really frustrating,” Logano said. “Last week we missed it by eight thousandths and this week by six thousandths. Second stings the most. That is okay. Our team is tough and we showed speed in qualifying the last couple weeks. I think this AAA Fusion has a lot of speed in race trim too. I am excited. It is a fun track to race and is really racey as well. We are starting toward the front and this is a 500-mile race so I am looking forward to it.”
Dillon, who was only 14th in Friday’s practice, was eliminated from the Chase after the first round.
“We missed the Chase (second round cutoff) by just two feet,” Dillon said. “We want to prove that we can win a race by the end of this year. This is big for us. I thought I messed up the lap truthfully. I got a lot of good speed off of two, but turn three I turned in and missed my corner, but it worked out.”
For two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Friday’s qualifying session didn’t work out. Denny Hamlin, just made it into the second round, but nearly lost it on his qualifying lap. He made a second run, but could only improve a few spots; for the first time this season, Hamlin did not move into the final round and will start 17th Sunday.
“Just real loose on the exit of the corner and that really had us make rerun and we had already heated up the right rear tires quite a bit in our second run,” Hamlin said. “We tried to make it there and improved our position a little bit, but we knew it would be a shot in the dark for us to go out here and contend for the pole today. Hopefully we will have something good in race trim and will go out and race for it.”
His teammate Kyle Busch, in a backup car after crashing his primary in practice, did make it through to the second round. But after it was over his No. 18 Toyota was leaking water on pit road forcing the team to take it to the garage; Busch, who won here in the spring will start 24th Sunday.
“In our hurry to change the motor and all the drivetrain afterwards, “Busch crew chief Adam Stevens said. “Apparently we didn’t get the lower radiator hose completely clamped on the water neck out of the block and proceeded to dump all the water out of it on pit road after our first run. We’re going to start 24th and get after them from there.”
Jimmie Johnson, who has already secured a spot in the final Four at Homestead struggled all day to fins speed. Johnson, a six-time Texas winner, including this race last year, will roll off 18th Sunday.
Paul Menard will start sixth Sunday, followed by Matt Kenseth, Ryan Blaney, Carl Edwards, and Kurt Busch in 10th. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson were the final two drivers to advance to the final round and will start 11th and 12th respectively. With 40 entries no one was sent home. The full qualifying results can be found here, the full lineup for Sunday here.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA Texas 500 will be run this Sunday. Live coverage will be on NBC starting at 1:30 p.m. ET with the green flag coming just after 2:00 p.m. ET.