Martin Truex Jr. took the top spot in the final round of qualifying Friday to win back to back poles in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, his first at Auto Club Speedway. Toyota Racing Development will share the front row with the efforts of Kyle Busch.
Truex becomes the first driver to claim the pole with NASCAR’s new Cup level pole award sponsor, Anheuser-Busch.
“It’s definitely cool to win that award and know the history behind it,” Truex said during his press conference. “Racing in the Busch North series, and my first big pole award was by Busch. It feels good to have that ‘throwback’ feel, and excited to get the first one when they came back with them partnering again with NASCAR and sponsoring the sport again, it’s exciting.”
Truex and his team seemed to feel confident after the first practice earlier in the day when he posted the seventh fastest time. They opted to stay on a single set of tires throughout practice, and after Harvick’s rare mistake in Turn 2, the door opened for Truex to jump after the top spot.
Kyle Busch came home with a runner-up to the pole and will start alongside Truex on the front row.
“The TRD (Toyota Racing Development) guys down in Costa Mesa always put this one on the calendar. Proud of the effort to have two of us on the front row, and Erik [Jones] there in fourth. Overall, a good day for us with our Interstate Batteries Camry.”
Kyle Larson was right on the rear bumper of Kevin Harvick across the first two qualifying rounds and had new competition in the final round. His No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro will start in the third position alongside a third TRD car of Erik Jones and Austin Dillon, rounding out the top five starting spots.
“Decent qualifying run,” Larson said, who was earlier inducted into the Auto Club Speedway Walk of Fame. “We would have liked to have been on the pole but got a little tighter each run. That is kind of what ended up hurting us a little bit and lost some speed off Turn 2.”
Kevin Harvick set the track record in the first round and was on his way to sweeping all three rounds of qualifying, but a mistake coming out of Turn 2 hurt his overall speed and time. He will start in the 10th position in his No. 4 Stewart Haas Ford Fusion behind Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney and Ryan Newman, respectively. The rest of the running order from the final round of qualifying included Brad Keselowski (11th) and Chris Buescher (12th).
Only 24 cars made an attempt at qualifying in the first round, so all drivers advanced into the second round. This gifted a few drivers with a much higher than average start for Sunday’s race, including Chris Buescher (12th), Trevor Bayne (13th) and Matt DiBenedetto (18th).
The notable team that did not make a qualifying effort was the entire camp at Hendrick Motorsports. Jeff Andrews, Vice President of Competition for the team, told FOX Sports about their struggle saying that all their cars had issues with the rear end of the car passing inspection.
“No, they were all similar, in the same area of the car,” Jeff shared. “We’ve got to go back, we have to talk obviously, internally, and talk with NASCAR. We felt like we were making changes, obviously in the area affected and just we were not seeing the results when we went back through.”
Other key drivers that missed the first round of qualifying were Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola, who were second and third fastest in the first practice, respectively. While Kyle Busch said it was a better question for the crew chiefs, Truex had his take on the substantial increase of failed inspections from 13 teams during qualifying.
“I don’t really know what happened today or what guys were fighting,” Truex shared. “I think the biggest issue with the LIS is measuring the rear hub. You go across there four times, you get four different numbers, so I think for the crew chiefs, it’s a tough situation to be in. Nobody goes into tech expecting to fail or trying to fail, and sometimes you just get caught off guard.”
The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series will wave the green flag on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. local time for the Auto Club 400.