Team Penske clearly has this NASCAR knockout qualifying format figured out.
Friday afternoon, Penske driver Joey Logano won the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, taking the No. 1 qualifying spot away from his teammate Brad Keselowski in the final minutes of time trials.
This was the second consecutive pole sweep for the Penske duo, who last week captured the front row at Phoenix, with Keselowski on pole. This time out, Logano put down a track record lap of 193.278 miles per hour in his No. 22 Penske Ford to claim the eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup pole of his career and the third for the team at Las Vegas. Keselowski’s speed was 193.099 mph in the No. 2 Ford.
"To have a Penske front row the last two weekends at two completely different tracks just goes to show how hard these guys have been working," said Logano. "When you work hard, the results come."
Logano said the challenge will be making the speed translate to a race victory.
"Obviously, we haven’t won on Sunday yet, so we have to figure out the big show," said Logano. "But we’ve had some good speed in our cars."
Clint Bowyer qualified third in his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota at 192.713 mph. Austin Dillon was fourth in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, with six-time series champ Jimmie Johnson completing the top five.
For Bowyer, not known as a great qualifier, third was an impressive run.
"It is a breath of fresh air to have a good day in qualifying and at least bounce back after not even making the second cut there (Phoenix) last weekend," said Bowyer.
Likewise, Dillon was glad to back up his Daytona 500 pole with another strong performance. "It’s pretty impressive for RCR," Dillon said. "I’m excited for Sunday’s race, and hopefully we can continue this early success in the weekend, over to happy hour and then also into the race."
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was sixth, followed by Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola, Brian Vickers and Ryan Newman. Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 14th and Danica Patrick was 22nd.
This marked the first time that NASCAR used its new qualifying procedures for tracks 1.25 miles and longer. All 48 drivers got to go out for the first 25-minute session, with 24 advancing to the 10-minute second round and 12 drivers settling the pole among themselves in the final five-minute round.
And to pole-sitter Logano, that made capturing the top spot that much better.
"So much more goes into qualifying now and it definitely makes it even more special to win a pole," said Logano.
There were some early surprises, as Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin (27th) and last year’s race winner Matt Kenseth (29th) did not advance beyond the first round. Greg Biffle was 25th, the first driver out, just 0.010 seconds behind three-time series champion Tony Stewart. Marcos Ambrose had water pressure problems and never got a competitive lap in.
In the second round, all four Stewart-Haas Racing cars got knocked out as did all of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers except Johnson. Kyle Busch failed to advance, meaning Joe Gibbs Racing didn’t get any cars into the final round.
Not making the race were Blake Koch, Landon Cassill, Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek and J.J. Yeley.