Aric Almirola stole the show from his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer Friday night knocking him off the provisional pole with a lap of 181.473 halfway through the final five minutes to score his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup pole and his first at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“You know, we knew our car had a lot of raw speed in it and through the rounds the adjustments that Johnny was making kept making our car a little bit better,” Almirola said. “In the first round, there was a little bit of confusion leaving pit road. I feel like that might have cost us a little bit. Then that final round just was really good execution by the whole team. “
Bowyer had led the field all day grabbing the top spot in the lone practice session earlier in the day and followed that up leading the two rounds leading up to the final one Friday night. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. even stole the glory of the front row taking the second spot just after Almirola had taken the pole.
“It was a good effort. A good effort for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing,” Bowyer said. “It is good to get off on the right foot. Certainly, the speed is in the race car. I don’t know what that means for the race. Momentum is such a key thing… I knew it was a momentum deal and I had to have as much as I could, and it still wasn’t enough. I do believe that we were the fastest car all day long and they were going to have to do something and they formulated a good plan to beat us.”
It marked the first pole for the new Mustang as Ford took four of the top five spots with Denny Hamlin in a Toyota in fourth with the third Stewart-Haas Racing driver Daniel Suarez taking fifth.
The fourth SHR driver Kevin Harvick struggled with power steering issues all day and could only manage 18th saying his car was too dangerous to drive. Harvick dominated at Atlanta last year taking pole and leading 181 laps. This is the first race with NASCAR’s new aero package and reduced horsepower; Harvick’s pole speed last year was 184.652.
“Today has been a complete waste of time for us,” Harvick said. “The car won’t steer. It won’t turn to the right. We can’t figure out what is wrong with the steering to make it go straight. It has been a bit of a challenge today. We haven’t really made any laps that you can actually turn the car. We were kind of just hoping for the best there and it didn’t fix any of it.”
Kyle Busch will start sixth, Kyle Larson is the highest starting Chevy in seventh with Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon rounding out the top 10. Jimmie Johnson and Michael McDowell were the final two cars to advance to the final round and will start eleventh and twelfth respectively.
The last pole For Almirola came in 2012 at Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 will get the green flag just after 2:00 p.m. Sunday with live coverage on Fox.