Will today’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race be a Ford runaway?
That’s hard to say for certain, but this much is undisputed: Fords swept the top five positions in qualifying and eight of the top 12 for today’s race (pre-race coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. ET on FS1).
And with new asphalt and a new configuration for Turns 1 and 2, starting up front is certainly desirable at a place where passing is difficult.
“You go into a weekend like this with a lot of unknowns and it is the teamwork that pulls you through and makes you strong,” said Clint Bowyer, who qualified third behind his Stewart-Haas Racing team and pole-sitter Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney. “… Sweeping the top-five (in qualifying) is big.”
“To see the top-five as Fords is just awesome,” said Joey Logano, who will roll off the starting grid in fourth place. “I bet it has been a long time for that. It is neat to see. Usually, if you see a manufacturer sweep the top-three it is an accomplishment. Top-five is a hell of an accomplishment.”
Yes, Joey. It has been a long time. In fact, it was the 1998 AC Delco 500 at Rockingham where the top seven starting spots all donned the Blue Oval.
However, the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon won the race.
Speaking of Hendrick, the lead Chevrolet team and a perennial powerhouse have an uphill battle today.
Jimmie Johnson spun in qualifying and had to replace the tires on his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, which means he has to start the race at the back of the field. None of his three teammates made it through pre-qualifying inspection in time to qualify. So Chase Elliott will start 33rd, Kasey Kahne 35th, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 37th.
It could be a long day for one of the sport’s elite teams, especially with a mostly one-groove race track where passing will be at a premium.
“I think it’s going to be really tough, but I think that track is only going to get better as the weekend goes,” said Kahne. “Whether that’s good enough to pass, it’s tough to say at this point. But I highly doubt it.”