Martin Truex Jr. needed something to go right and Friday he got just that winning his first Monster Energy NASCAR pole at Richmond Raceway. The Toyota driver will lead the field to the Toyota Owners 400 Saturday night.
It was the reigning Cup champion’s third pole of the season and the 18th of his career. Truex won the first round of the three rounds of knockout qualifying and put down the fastest lap of 21.799, 123.728 mph on his first lap with 3:45 left in the five-minute round.
“Coming in, we knew that we’ve been kind of gaining on it here,” Truex said. “We’ve been qualifying well and felt like the last couple times, especially both races last year felt like we had a really good shot at it and missed it a little bit in the third round. In the fall here, we were first in the second round and third round, we kind of slipped a little bit and screwed it up. Just trying to build on that past history and continue to get better at each racetrack. It’s always good to check those boxes off. First pole at Richmond is great. The first pit stall is a big deal here.”
Chase Elliott who led the first practice Friday will start beside Truex on the front row followed by defending race winner Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, who led the second round of qualifying, and Kyle Larson who led the final practice Friday rounding out the top five.
“I think more than the front row is the pit stall selection,” Elliott said. “Obviously, we know Martin (Truex, Jr.) will be good. He ran really well here both races last year. I would have loved to of had that first pit stall. We were just talking so frustrating to be so close to something once again. Just trying to finish stuff off and I think that obviously would have loved to have gotten the pole but starting second is plenty good enough to run well in the race, so we will see.”
The biggest surprise came in the first round when Kyle Busch and his team took a gamble that didn’t pay off. Busch didn’t advance to the second round for the first time since the spring race at Texas last season. He will start 32nd. Brad Keselowski also struggled in the first round and could only secure 28th.
“We didn’t make a mock-run in practice and we thought the spread would be about three-tenths and (Kevin) Harvick ran a .74 or something like that,” Busch said. “And we ran a .05 and it wasn’t. It was faster than that and we only ran two laps trying to make sure we preserve our tires for later on – deeper into the session. A bunch of those guys ran three laps and obviously we needed that third lap. It would have picked up. For some reason the tire here today, even in race trim, your fastest lap was the seventh lap. It takes a while for everything to come in and we were trying to shortcut it a little bit and didn’t work out for us. So we’ll come from the way far back.”
Kurt Busch will roll off sixth followed by Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, William Byron and Kevin Harvick filling out the top 10.
Alex Bowman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were the final two cars to advance and will start 11th and 12th respectively.
After finishes of 37th and 30th in the past two races, Truex is looking for a step in the right direction.
“It’s definitely been a crappy two weeks, but that’s part of racing,” Truex said. “This team, I’ve got so much faith and confidence in them and everything we’re doing. You can’t let those kinds of things get you down. It’s nothing we did, it’s just circumstances. Just proud of the effort today. Everybody did a great job and we stayed focused on our plan and it worked out.”
With 38 entries for 40 spots no team was sent home.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 will get the green flag just after 6:30 p.m. Saturday with live coverage on Fox.