Championship contender Kasey Kahne shattered the track record at repaved Kansas Speedway on Friday, turning a lap of 191.360 mph to take the pole for Sunday’s race.
Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer were next fastest, and all 43 cars in the field broke the previous record of 180.856 set by Matt Kenseth in 2005.
”All the drivers are high-fiving each other because we came back here alive,” joked Kyle Busch, who qualified fourth. ”The minimum speed through the corner is amazing.”
Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., is coming off a win last week at Charlotte that put him back in the championship picture. He trails leader Brad Keselowski by 28 points with five races left in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
”That was a fast lap,” Bowyer said. ”It’s unreal how much that gets your attention.”
Keselowski will start 25th after a lousy qualifying run. Jimmie Johnson is third in points and will start seventh, while Denny Hamlin will go off ninth after a hard wreck in testing on Thursday.
”You’re just driving your guys out and doing everything you can all the way around,” Johnson said. ”You know it’s fast. You just don’t know if it’s fast enough.”
Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart qualified worst of the Chase drivers in 33rd, while Regan Smith got sideways going through a corner and qualified 40th in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car.
Kansas Speedway underwent a massive renovation over the summer that replaced the worn-out asphalt original to the track while creating variable banking in the corners. The result has been some of the fastest speeds seen over the surface since IndyCars were running on it.
Mark Martin, who qualified second, said he’s concerned that one lane along the bottom of the track will make it difficult to pass. That’s been the case at some other repaved tracks.
”It’s a new track now. I mean, it really is, and we’re going to have to learn as we go,” Martin said. ”We can’t find out tomorrow in practice what the track is going to be like Sunday. It’s just not going to happen. This track is coming in very slowly.”
Hamlin wrecked the car he intended to use for Sunday’s race when he clipped the wall entering Turn 1 near the start of testing on Thursday. He wound up making two visits to the infield care center before he was cleared by medical staff to resume testing in a backup car.
He unloaded the car he used at Chicago and was good enough to post a lap of 190.718.
Smith was seventh-fastest in practice in Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy. Earnhardt is missing his second straight race after sustaining two concussions in a six-week span and pulling himself from the car, even though he was in championship contention heading into Talladega.
AJ Allmendinger qualified 13th in his second race with Phoenix Racing. The team had been slated to use Smith for the final six races of the season after Kurt Busch left early to get a start on next year’s job with Furniture Row Racing.
Hendrick Motorsports wanted Smith to fill-in for Earnhardt, though, and Allmendinger got his first opportunity since his July suspension for failing a random drug test. He completed NASCAR’s recovery program and was reinstated in September.
Busch, meanwhile, qualified 29th for Furniture Row.