Matt Kenseth needs a win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series. Yes, he’s currently in the playoffs on points, but a win would solidify a spot for the lame duck Joe Gibbs Racing driver and show the rest of the NASCAR world that he can still be a force to be reckoned with.
“The third round, it didn’t feel as good, but luckily it was fast enough,” said Kenseth. “We missed the balance a little bit there, but it was fast enough to get the pole…
Kenseth took a step towards his first win of the season Friday night winning the pole for Saturday nights Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. The pole is the 20th of Kenseth’s career and his second of the season. His first came in the spring here. He went on to lead a race high 164 laps only to have a tire failure late in the going leave him with a 23rd place finish.
“I’m hoping for the best,” Kenseth said. “I thought we were at our best this morning (in practice) when the track was the coolest and the cleanest. As it got hotter, we ran worse. So I guess that gives me hope that we’ll have speed tomorrow night.”
Kenseth put down a lap halfway through the final five-minute round of 22.055, 122.421 mph to secure the top spot in the final regular season race that will set the 16-car field for NASCAR’s playoffs.
Defending race winner, and current JGR teammate Denny Hamlin will start on the front row next to Kenseth, with Kurt Busch who led second round third followed by Kyle Larson who was quickest in the first round and the regular season champion Martin Truex Jr. fifth.
“I thought it would be a little worse than it ended up,” said Hamlin, last week’s winner at Darlington Raceway. “I didn’t drive the laps as good as I probably could have and probably gotten the pole. Either way, a good run. We improved every round.
“And, obviously, we’re hoping for long green-flag runs. That’s typically where I excel at this race track. All in all, a pretty good day.”
Kevin Harvick will roll off sixth followed by Kyle Busch, Rickey Stenhouse Jr., Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones rounding out the top 10. Joey Logano, who needs a win to make the playoffs after his win here in the spring was ruled encumbered will start 12th, just behind Jamie McMurray.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” Logano said. “I think we are okay. Our long run speed looked to be okay. I don’t think we are lights-out fast but I think we are close enough that we can certainly make it interesting on everyone.”
In his last Richmond Cup race as a full-time driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 21st.
With 39 cars entered, no teams were sent home.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Federated Auto Parts 400 will get the green flag just after 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network starting at 7.