Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. – After powering to his second pole of the season on Thursday night,Matt Kenseth will start NASCAR’s longest race from the most advantageous position—with his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota getting serviced in the most advantageous pit stall.
Kenseth ran his fastest lap of the night (194.252 mph) in the third and final round of knockout qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway and secured the top spot on the grid for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM), the 12th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season.
The Coors Light Pole Award was Kenseth’s first at Charlotte and the 15th of his career. Kenseth, who covered the 1.5-mile distance in 27.799 seconds, was a whopping .204 seconds faster thanJoey Logano (192.836 mph), whose No. 22 Team Penske Ford will start beside Kenseth’s Camry on the front row.
“I think starting up front is important at this track,” Kenseth said. “It typically goes through a lot of changes here, especially if the sun is out for the beginning of the race. You want to have good track position, good pit selection—all those things—so if you get a little bit off and you’re chasing the setup or the track changes, you have a little bit of a buffer being toward the front, hopefully…
“All the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas had some speed tonight, and that was encouraging.”
Carl Edwards (192.733 mph) was third in his No. 19 JGR Toyota, followed by Greg Biffle in his No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford (192.226 mph) and NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winner Denny Hamlin in his No. 11 JGR Toyota (192.007 mph).
Surprisingly, in consecutive seasons that have seen domination of the intermediate speedways by the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet of reigning series champion Kevin Harvick and the No. 48 Chevy of six-time champ Jimmie Johnson, Toyotas and Fords claimed the top seven qualifying positions for the 600.
To Logano, however, the absence of a Chevrolet from the top five spots on the grid for the first time this season isn’t hugely significant.
“Those guys have been fast in the race—that’s where their speed really shines,” Logano said. “They qualify good–don’t get me wrong—but in the race they shine a little bit more. You’re talking about the 4, the 41 (Kurt Busch) and the 48. Those are the ones that stand out.
“And I’m sure they’ll be fast when it comes to race time. Qualifying’s a different animal. You use a completely different setup, and qualifying can kind of mask over some issues you have in race trim a lot of times. … I wouldn’t (read) too much into it.”
Notes: All four Hendrick Motorsports entries failed to advance to the final round of knockout qualifying, but Kasey Kahne had a valid excuse. A cut tire prevented him from posting a quick qualifying laps. As a result, the three-time winner of the Coca-Cola 600 will start 33rd on Sunday …Jeb Burton, Mike Bliss, Travis Kvapil, Jeff Green and Brendan Gaughan failed to make the 43-car field. The 48-car turnout for qualifying was the largest since 49 entries showed up for the season-opening Daytona 500.