RICHMOND, Va.—What a comeback.
Less than a week after winning the STP 400 from the pole at Kansas Speedway—only to draw a NASCAR penalty of epic proportions for an underweight connecting rod in his engine—Matt Kenseth is back on top at Richmond International Raceway.
With a track-record run at 130.334 mph (20.716 seconds), Kenseth won his second Coors Light pole award in as many weeks and the 10th of his career. Kenseth edged Brian Vickers (130.303 mph), subbing for injured Denny Hamlin for the third straight week, by .005 seconds.
Kenseth will lead the field to green for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the .75-mile track.
Jeff Gordon (130.252 mph) qualified third, followed by Kasey Kahne (130.183 mph) and Clint Bowyer (130.158 mph), as the top five drivers broke Vickers’ 2004 track record of 129.983 mph (20.772 seconds).
Kahne, currently second in the Cup standings, will start 22 positions ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who leads Kahne by 37 points. Brad Keselowski, third in the standings and 38 points back, qualified 23rd. Kyle Busch, winner of the last four spring races at Richmond, starts eighth.
For Kenseth, and for his sponsors, the pole was a welcome bright spot at the end of a trying week.
“It feels great,” Kenseth said. “It’s a great race track. I felt like we were off a little in practice today, and (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff and that whole group there did the things they do for me every week and just made great adjustments.
“I thought we hit it pretty good there in that lap, had great speed. Thanks to Dollar General, Husky, home Depot (Kenseth’s sponsors) for sticking with us through all this stuff this week. We’ll get through this… glad to be on the pole, and looking forward to tomorrow night.”
After wrecking during qualifying at Kansas last week and starting from the rear of the field in a backup car, Gordon thought initially that the pole at Richmond might be an appropriate reward for his issues, but he conceded the honor to Kenseth.
“I was thinking how much I deserved to get the pole after starting 43rd last week, but after his week, maybe he deserved it a little bit more,” Gordon quipped.
Notes: What are the odds? With qualifying order determined by blind draw, the Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets of Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick were the first three cars on the grid for time trials. The Richard Petty Motorsports Fords of Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose followed in positions four and five… AJ Allmendinger, fresh from the IndyCar event at Long Beach, Calif., qualified 24th in his return to Cup racing in James Finch’s No. 51 Chevrolet… As part of the penalty for the illegal connecting rod, Kenseth was stripped of his eligibility in the 2014 season-opening Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at Daytona for pole winners. He regained it with the pole run at Richmond.