Matt Kenseth wins pole for Bank of America 500 at Charlotte
The cream rose to the top Thursday night, as Matt Kenseth of the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing team won the pole for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
JGR, the most successful team in NASCAR this year, swept the front row and saw all four of its drivers qualify in the top eight.
In a rare Thursday night qualifying session, Kenseth blistered the 1.5-mile North Carolina track with a best lap of 194.532 miles per hour in his JGR Toyota. Kenseth is the only five-time winner this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Qualifying second was Kenseth’s JGR teammate Kyle Busch at 193.154 mph. Joey Logano was third in a Team Penske Ford, followed by Greg Biffle’s Roush Fenway Ford and Denny Hamlin in a third JGR entry. Carl Edwards was eighth in the final JGR entry.
Kevin Harvick, last Sunday’s winner at Dover, qualified 11th. But the night clearly belonged to JGR, which rebounded strongly here.
“Proud of my guys,” said Kenseth. “They brought some speed today. All of the (JGR) cars had a lot of speed today, and that’s always really encouraging.”
Kenseth said his car felt good on track during both practice and qualifying. “It had speed today,” he said of his car. “It reacted to changes. It did the things I like the car to do at Charlotte to make it go fast.”
“We were a contender for the pole and our teammate there got it from us,” second-qualifier Busch said of Kenseth. “He ran a really fast lap. He got more out of it than I did.”
The strong qualifying added to what already has been a sensational year for the team.
The JGR Toyotas have won 13 of 29 races so far this season, including the Coca-Cola 600 and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, which were both run at Charlotte in May. The pole was Kenseth’s fourth this year, including two at Charlotte, and 17th of his career.
Third-qualifier Logano said he was pleased with his run.
“We want to start first, obviously, but third is a good starting spot,” said Logano, a three-time winner this season. “We’ll have a good pit stall for that reason. Five hundred (miles) is a long time, but it’s still nice having a good starting spot here.”
The Charlotte race is the first of three events in the so-called Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Twelve drivers remain in Sprint Cup championship contention and they will start the BofA 500 tied with 3,000 points each.
At the end of the Contender Round, the four drivers with the lowest point totals of the 12 who have not won a race in the round will be eliminated. The remaining eight drivers will move on to the Eliminator Round, which again is three races long. The top four Eliminator Round survivors will move on to the one-race, winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway next month.
Nine of the 12 Chase drivers qualified in the top 12 for Saturday night’s race. In his final race at Charlotte, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon qualified 22nd. The only other two Chasers to post times outside the top 12 were 2012 series champ Brad Keselowski in 13th and Martin Truex Jr. in 15th.
Two drivers failed to make the field: Josh Wise and Timmy Hill.