On Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth put an exclamation point on his return to racing at NASCAR’s highest level, winning the pole for Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race (6 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
In the unique All-Star qualifying format, which features three laps and a four-tire stop with no pit road speed limit, Kenseth posted a total time of 2:07.644 for an average speed of 126.915 mph to edge Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (126.427 mph) for the Monster Energy Pole Award in the exhibition race that pays $1 million to win.
The driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford won his third pole for the All-Star Race, his last coming in 2007. Kenseth won the event in 2004, the year after he secured his series championship.
Behind the Roush Fenway drivers are two more Fords, the No. 14 of Clint Bowyer and the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick, winner of the last two Cup series events and five this season.
Kenseth was the 10th driver to make a qualifying run, and he had to wait for the remaining seven drivers to complete their attempts. When Kyle Larson, the last qualifier, shot down pit road like a cannonball and slip three stalls past his pit box, Kenseth knew the pole was his.
Kenseth secured the top starting spot without the opportunity to practice, thanks to a downpour that ended the session before some cars had a chance to run.
“The car drove good,” Kenseth said. “It seemed fine. It was our first laps on the track today with all the rain, and Ricky (Stenhouse) was a huge help to me going out early and helping me with my braking on pit road and his spotter up there helping me. That was a big help to get us up there like that.
“To have both cars on the front row is really a tribute to these guys—the pit stops, obviously the engines and all the restrictor-plate stuff. This was more about the car and the team than it was about me.”
For the first time, NASCAR incorporated a competition package for Charlotte that included restrictor plates on the engines—offset by larger rear spoilers designed to add downforce and drag.
Both Kenseth and Stenhouse had little trouble mastering the new feel of the cars, and their pit stops—expedited by changing left-side tires first—were among the best of the night. Stenhouse qualified second despite running over a drainage grate trying to cut the corner near the entrance to Turn 1 after his pit stop.
“I thought I would cut the corner as low as I could, and I got right past the wall and saw that pothole and I was wide open and I hit it,” Stenhouse said. “Yeah, that was not good on the equipment, but my guys did an awesome job. No penalties. That was big.
“Any time you do a format like this, being penalty-free is good. I do think I could have gotten to pit road better. Right now, I’m glad that we beat the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the 2 (Brad Keselowski) because those cars were really good at doing this last year. Track position will be pretty key come tomorrow night.”
Reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. will start fifth next to Ryan Blaney. Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon and Joey Logano will start sixth through 10th, respectively. Busch is the defending winner of the race.
Jamie McMurray posted the fastest time (2:06.595 mph) but drew a five-second penalty because of a loose lug nut. McMurray will line up 12th, one spot behind Johnson, whose effort was foiled by a 19.9-second pit stop.
Qualifying for the Monster Energy Open, which will advance its three stage winners to the All-Star Race, was a victim of the rains that played havoc with track activity on Friday afternoon. The field for Saturday’s qualifying race was set by owner points, with Aric Almirola getting the pole position and Erik Jones the outside of the front row.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott will start third and fourth, respectively, in the 50-lap Open, which will be contested in stages of 20, 20 and 10 laps before the main event. The final starting spot in the All-Star Race will be determined by the Fan Vote.
Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race Qualifying Results
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Concord, North Carolina
Friday, May 18, 2018
1. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 126.915 mph.
2. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 126.427 mph.
3. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 126.233 mph.
4. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 125.834 mph.
5. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 125.636 mph.
6. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 125.511 mph.
7. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 125.427 mph.
8. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 124.962 mph.
9. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 124.738 mph.
10. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 124.137 mph.
11. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 123.624 mph.
12. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 123.105 mph.
13. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 121.031 mph.
14. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 119.235 mph.
15. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 119.121 mph.
16. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 117.582 mph.
17. (95) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 111.231 mph.