By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
HAMPTON, Ga. – Joey Logano added another memory at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, and seven other Ford drivers followed behind him.
Covering the 1.540-mile distance in 31.256 seconds (177.374 mph), Logano won the pole for Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 (3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and led a parade of eight Ford drivers into the top eight starting positions.
That’s the first time since 1965 at Beltsville (Md.) that Fords have qualified for the top eight spots on the grid. Saturday’s result is even more impressive, given that no Chevrolets attempted to qualify for the Beltsville race, where Fords took positions one through 10.
Logano’s pole-winning run was .006 seconds faster than that of Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric (177.340 mph). Ryan Blaney qualified third at 177.215 mph, giving Penske the second 1-2-3 qualifying effort in the organization’s history.
Brad Keselowski was fourth fastest, followed by Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher and Chase Briscoe. Kyle Larson (176.213 mph) was ninth in the fastest Chevrolet.
Christopher Bell was the only Toyota driver to qualify for the final round, but he spun during his money lap and failed to post a time.
The Busch Light Pole Award was Logano’s second of the season, second at Atlanta (but first with NASCAR’s superspeedway competition package) and 28th of his career. Inevitably, Logano’s success on the big track brought back memories of his early days in racing, when he competed in Legends cars at Atlanta.
“I’ve never been on the front row at a superspeedway—forget a pole,” Logano said. “Doing it here at Atlanta for me is special. So many memories here. I lived up in one of those condos for five years and raced Legends cars out here for six years.
“Just the memories of walking into Victory Lane a minute ago to get the pole award and thinking about driving my Legend car in there, with my dad and how cool that was, and always dreaming about being on the big track when I was running the quarter-mile all the time…
“I guess I try to keep those thoughts up front in my mind.”
Brad Keselowski gives new short-track package high marks for “hard to drive”
Owner/driver Brad Keselowski firmly believes NASCAR Cup Series cars should be difficult to drive, and from his experience last Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, he feels NASCAR accomplished that objective with the new competition package for short tracks and road courses.
“I enjoyed the race last week from the perspective of how hard the car was to drive,” Keselowski said Saturday morning before Cup qualifying at Atlanta. “I thought that was a massive gain here in the Cup Series. When I first came in the Cup Series these were some of the hardest cars I ever drove in my life. In fact, they were the hardest car I’d ever driven in my life.
“You would come off the corners and they would wiggle and they would wobble, and you would really be out of control and you’d spin the tires and then drive back down into the next corner and you’d about back it into the fence. And then over time the cars have gotten easier to drive. I think some of that was gaining experience as a driver, but the reality is that most of it was the cars over time developing into a series where they were easier to drive by the specs that NASCAR allowed us to utilize.”
After racing at Phoenix, however, Keselowski applauded the new rules package, which features significantly reduced downforce. The most obvious change is the rear spoiler, with its height halved from four inches to two.
“The car that we raced last week, if I put a local short track vet in it from anywhere in America, he would probably have struggled to drive,” Keselowski said. “He would probably spin out on corner exit. He would probably have a handful of problems with it.
“The cars that we had with the downforce package before that, I feel like I could take any local short track driver in the country, put them in there and they’d probably get in a good car and run pretty well. That’s not what we want at this level. That’s not what I think is indicative of what our fans and our sport has as an interest for what drivers should be at this level. So, I think in that sense, last week was a significant gain that we can hang our hat on.”
Penalties won’t change William Byron’s approach to competition
William Byron, winner of the last two NASCAR Cup Series races, doesn’t think the penalties he suffered for his team’s unauthorized modifications to the hood louvers on his No. 24 Chevrolet will have an effect on the way he races.
True, Byron lost 100 driver championship points and 10 of the 13 Playoff points he accumulated in his two wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix—pending Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal—but his early success hasn’t dulled his motivation to win more races.
“Yeah, certainly the points is something that we just adjust to,” Byron said. “It’s early in the season. The cars are extremely fast. We obviously had the pace last week to win regardless, so I think that’s going to continue. I think with that pace, we’re just going to use that to our advantage to make up points.
“We didn’t intend on really relaxing after a win anyways this year. So I think, going into the next however many weeks that we’ve got until the playoffs, we’re going to push really hard. I think we’re just going to give it everything, every week. We had a good week of preparation; lots of time in the sim (simulator), lots of time at the shop. Just excited for all of that to continue.”