A normally sedate single car qualifying session was filled with drama Saturday. Martin Truex Jr. will lead the field to the green for Sunday’s NASCAR Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway after he put down a lap of 49.508, 193.423 mph to win his fourth pole of the season the 11th of his career and his first at the 2.66-mile Alabama track.
“It’s definitely cool,” Truex said. “You come here and you don’t really have a whole lot to say as a driver when it comes to qualifying, so obviously proud of the team and proud of everybody in Denver and proud of everybody at the race track for their efforts. Build a brand new car to come here and it’s awesome to be the fastest guy in town.”
Truex was one of seven Chase drivers who advanced to second and final round consisting of single car runs. Fellow Chase driver Brad Keselowski , who won here in May, grabbed second in the same car he drove to victory here in the spring. Matt Kenseth will start third followed by Chase Elliott in fourth, with non-Chase driver Greg Biffle rounding out the top five.
The drama started even before the qualifying however as NASCAR officials confirmed that part were taken from the No. 78 Toyota of Truex prior to qualifying. The part in question was a left front jackscrew that was hollowed out. According to crew chief Cole Pearn later said on social media that it was a mistake and would not give the team an advantage. NASCAR seemed to agree and later NASCAR VP of competition Scott Miller seemed to agree.
Miller said the part seized would not have given the team a competitive advantage, and that further penalties were “unlikely”, although he emphasized that the final word would come later in the week after the part is inspected by the NASCAR R&D staff.
“I would say it would be unlikely but it has to go through our process,” Miller said about issuing any sort of penalties. “We don’t typically do that on a weekend. Because it is the playoffs, everybody has a heightened sense of everything but this is no different than things that we’ve done all year and we will treat this one just like we do all year long.”
“All the crazy talk going on today is nonsense,” Truex said. “I think people speculate on things and don’t really know what they are. The jack bolt issue is really not a big issue. It’s not hollow like what was reported. They didn’t take both – they just took the left front so it’s not a big issue. It was a parts manufacturing issue, no big deal at all and I’m sure NASCAR will tell you all what it was all about in a few days.”
Truex wasn’t the only team to run afoul of NASCAR officials.
After the first round of qualifying had started, three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing cars were pulled out of line and forced to be re-inspected. The cars of Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin were sent back for inspection and put on the five minute clock. The issue was with the deck lids on the right rear of the cars. All three were able to make it back out in time to qualify.
Miller said the issue with the JGR cars wasn’t much different than the issue with the 78.
“It’s our job to officiate the sport and make sure that everything is right,” he said.
Busch however was one of five Chase drivers who failed to advance to the final round, he’ll start 14th Sunday just behind his JGR teammate Carl Edwards who also failed to advance and will start 13th.
“We ended up exactly where we thought we were going to – 14th – so we’ll take it,” Busch said. “That’s fine and we’ll go racing tomorrow and see what happens from there.”
Joey Logano also failed to advance and will start 16th, Jimmie Johnson who led Friday’s final practice session will start 17th and Kevin Harvick 22nd. Both Johnson and Harvick are the only driver with victories in the Round of 12 and are not facing elimination Sunday. The other seven drivers face elimination Sunday, especially Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, and Keselowski.
“It’s good to qualify up front,” Keselowski said. “I think it’s a good confidence boost. I feel like when we have cars that qualify well here, we race well.”
There were some penalties for Truex and the JGR drivers however. Because they did fail pre-qualifying inpsection, and received a fourth written warning, Kenseth, Edwards, and Truex, along with Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne lost their respective pit selections and were forced to choose their pit boxes for Sunday last in the order they qualified.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start sixth, followed by Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Dillon and Paul Menard. Trevor Bayne and Reed Sorenson, who led the first round, were the final two to advance and will roil off twelfth and thirteenth respectively. David Gilliland was the only driver to not make the field. The full qualifying results can be found here, the full lineup here.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Hellman’s 500 will get the green flag just after 2:00 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.
A 5.5″ LF jackscrew was replaced for a 8″ that was mistakenly recessed to where a 5.5″ is. Common sense/CG doesn’t matter at a superspeedway
— Cole Pearn (@colepearn) October 22, 2016