By Reid Spencer | NASCAR Wire Service
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – You can’t blame Martin Truex Jr. for looking ahead.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leader didn’t need to win the pole position at Kansas Speedway, having already qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs’ Round of 8 with a victory two weeks ago at Charlotte.
But by posting the fastest lap in Friday’s knockout qualifying session at the 1.5-mile track, Truex got a leg up on a trip to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, because the time trials at Kansas came with a significant bonus — first choice of pit stalls for the Oct. 29 Round of 8 opener at Martinsville Speedway.
For the record, Truex ran the fastest lap of the afternoon in the final round of qualifying for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET), covering the distance in 28.719 seconds (188.029 mph) to beat Kevin Harvick (187.682 mph) for the top starting spot by .053 seconds.
But Truex had to push his car to the limit in the final round to earn his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his second at Kansas and the 15th of his career.
“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, to go the fastest you’ve gone all day in that final round.
“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. The commitment level was high, and the car handled it well. That’s always a good combination.”
Ryan Blaney had qualified third but his time was disallowed following post-qualifying inspection as it was found that the package tray on the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford did not maintain its original shape. As a result of that, Blaney will start from the 40th position in Sunday’s race.
Matt Kenseth will start third and Denny Hamlin fourth, as playoff drivers garnered the top four spots on the grid. Daniel Suarez was fifth, followed by Erik Jones and Kyle Busch, as Toyota drivers claimed six of the top seven starting positions, the only exception being the Ford of Harvick.
Because qualifying at Martinsville is on the same day as the race, pit selection at the .526-mile short track was tied to qualifying at Kansas, where the No. 1 pit stall gives a driver unfettered egress from pit road.
“It was definitely on our minds,” said Truex, who has won a series-best six races in a dream season for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team. “We talked about it. It was like ‘It’d be pretty nice to go to Martinsville and have the No. 1 pit stall.’
“It was definitely on our minds, but I don’t know if it really played into how we got the job done or not. But it was definitely good timing, more than anything, because that’s going to be huge for us going into the Round of 8 next week.”
Harvick, the 2014 series champion described his qualifying session as “three sketchy laps,” but feels he has a competitive car for the race that will trim the playoff field from 12 drivers to eight.
“I think we have a car that can be capable of staying up there and hopefully having a chance to win the race at the end,” Harvick said. “It’s a good start to the weekend. That’s half the battle when you’re trying to collect stage points in the first stage and get pit stall selection and try and gain all the advantages that you can on Friday.
“That’s something that our team did a good job at this year. I feel like our cars are a lot faster from the beginning of the year on the mile-and-a-half race tracks, and we’re on the game. It’s been a fun few weeks.”
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who currently leads Kyle Busch by seven points for the final spot in the Round of 8, and will start 12th. Playoff driver Jamie McMurray qualified eight in the fastest Chevrolet.
Playoff drivers Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott will start 13th and 14th, respectively. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the only playoff driver who failed to make the second round, will take the green flag from 24th.Kansas Starting Lineup MENCS Oct. 2017 C1732_STARTROW