In order to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup title a driver needs to master the most common track on the circuit, the 1.5-mile oval. Right now, that master in Martin Truex Jr. Truex showed why Friday night grabbed the pole for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Truex put down his pole winning lap of 28.719, 188.029 mph with just over a minute left in the final five-minute round for the 15th pole of his career, his third of the season and his second at Kansas.
“I was shaking a little, I’m not going to lie,” Truex said. “My heart was beating. It gets the adrenaline going so high. To put down a lap like that, just to go the fastest you have all day long in that final round on the third run on tires, we just – we put it all together. We got the balance better and I stepped up and put it on the line out there and it stuck. Commitment level was high and car handled it well. It’s always a good combination.”
In all seven of the top 12 starters are among NASCAR’s Playoffs round of 12; four of whom will be eliminated Sunday.
Among those facing elimination are defending champion Jimmie Johnson. Friday, he, and the rest of the four car Hendrick stable struggled in qualifying; all four missing out on the top 12. Johnson will start 12th (after the Blaney penalty), Chase Elliott 14th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 19th and Kasey Kahne 21st.
“Certainly, we want to be better than that,” Johnson said. “But, when I look at the fact that I out-qualified my teammates, we got faster through the rounds, starting closer to the front than we have in quite a few weeks, there are some good takeaways from today. Qualifying, as we all know, isn’t my sweet spot and I’m trying so hard to get better at that. This is a good week for me and we’re trying to discover some things to get better. I think I can say I’ve gotten a little bit better.”
Playoff driver Kyle Larson who led Friday’s lone practice session will start 13th. The other Playoff driver starting outside the top 12 is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who failed to advance out of the first round and will start 24th.
Defending race winner Kevin Harvick, who led the second round of qualifying, will start second. Ryan Blaney had third but his time was later withdrawn after his car failed post qualifying inspection after NASCAR said the package tray did not maintain its original shape. After the revised lineup Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez round out the top five.
Erik Jones will start sixth, Kyle Busch who is facing elimination and who was nearly bumped out in Round 1 will start seventh.
“I was just sideways loose, just trying to hang on and not crash the thing,” Busch said. “We weren’t really saving tires, just trying to make sure that we could have another run underneath us. The M&M’s Halloween Camry is just not quite right. There’s something missing, something we’re just not quite, quite feeling. It’s not communicating between my head and my butt and the rear tires so we’re trying to figure all that out and get it to where we can find some – it’s got speed, just find some more balance, find some more comfort to be able to hustle it and to be able to get out of it what we need out of it.”
Jamie McMurray had to start the first qualifying session from the garage after getting through inspection late, survived and will start eighth. Clint Bowyer will start ninth. Brad Keselowski who had to bump his way back into the second round starts 10th, Austin Dillon 11th.
Friday night, and so far the weekend, belonged to Truex who has six wins this season, including here in the spring. Five of those have come at 1.5 miles tracks, including winning the last four 1.5-mile races in succession. Should he win Sunday, he would be the first driver in NASCAR’s history to win five consecutive 1.5 races.
“Things are pretty terrible lately (laughs),” Truex said. “This stuff is so difficult, all these teams out here work so hard trying to be better than we’ve been the last couple times. If you’re not getting better you’re going backwards.”
There is also an added bonus that comes with the pole at Kansas. Next Sunday’s race at Martinsville, the first in the Round of 8, will stage qualifying on Sunday before the race, meaning that Friday nights session gives Truex and his team first selection of a pit stall at Martinsville.
“I would say it’s probably the biggest advantage of any track we go to, to have it there,” Truex said. “We’ve already been working hard on Martinsville and that’s certainly going to help us.”
With 40 cars entered, no one was sent home. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood 400 at Kansas Speedway gets the green flag just after 3:00 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.
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