For the second time in his career, Matt Kenseth will start from the pole in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway after posting the fastest lap in Round 3 of qualifying Friday afternoon.
Kenseth was the first car on the track in the final round, posting a lap at 128.632 mph, his best of the three rounds.
"I’m proud of our Dollar General guys, we weren’t particularly great in race trim. In qualifying trim we had some pretty good speed," said Kenseth, who commended his crew for making the right adjustments. "Glad we’re starting from the pole. We’ve got some work tomorrow to get it ready for Sunday. There aren’t a lot of great pit stalls here, and it’s a good place to be in front here and hopefully stay up there and stay out of trouble."
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Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski will start second, followed by Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, David Ragan and Austin Dillon.
Despite posting the second-fastest lap of the session, Keselowski was left wanting more.
"Second sucks," he told FOX Sports 1. "We’re here to win."
Logano had the fastest car in the first two rounds of qualifying, but crew chief Todd Gordon told his driver he freed the car up too much on the final run of the afternoon.
"It’s frustrating when you win the first two rounds and then you can’t really make it happen on the third one," said Logano. "Just got too loose in the last round and half the battle is just trying not to wreck and still trying to go fast. I felt like I lost a lot in (Turns) 3 and 4 just trying to keep the back from spinning around. It’s still not that bad, I’m mad with sixth. It’s a good problem to have."
When time ran out on the second round, Logano and Kenseth led the way, followed by Harvick, Busch, Keselowski, Edwards, Menard, Kahne, Hamlin, McMurray, Dillon and Ragan.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the first driver to miss Round 3, and will start Sunday’s race from the 13th spot.
Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon will start from the 23rd spot, but the five-time Bristol winner finished seventh in August 2013 after starting 32nd.
With just over 10 minutes left in Round 1, Ragan jumped to the top of the leaderboard in the No. 18 JGR Toyota, but he was quickly bumped by Logano’s lap at 129.290 mph.
When the clock ran out on Round 1 Logano and Ragan led the way, while Keselowski, Kenseth, Kahne, Dillon, Gordon, Harvick, Edwards and Earnhardt rounded out the top 10.
Those who did not advance out of Round 1 included Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (25th), Danica Patrick (26th), Jimmie Johnson (28th), and Clint Bowyer (37th).
"It was just a little bit tight, actually," said Patrick. "I’m actually pleased it was tight because in practice it was loose, loose, loose. I just couldn’t get into the corner the way that I felt like I really needed to and I couldn’t carry the speed through the center (of the corner). We just went to the other side of it. We were faster than we were in practice, so it’s not a great qualifying position at all, but it was still, I suppose, better than we were practicing."
The opening round was not without issue, however, as Greg Biffle battled a loose car and spun his No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford off Turn 4. Biffle was able to keep it from getting into the wall. NASCAR allowed the team to change tires and put scuffs on the car, but Biffle could only post the 33rd-fastest time of the session.
Johnson also battled a loose racecar in the opening round of qualifying and was unable to advance. The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will start Sunday’s race from the 28th spot.
Bowyer’s struggles also continued Friday at Bristol, as the driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota lost the nose of the car on his first qualifying run and had to chase it up the hill. Making a second run, Bowyer was not able to improve and will start Sunday’s race from the 37th spot.
Brendan Gaughan and Ron Hornaday Jr. failed to qualify for Sunday’s race.