RICHMOND, Va.—Sometimes it pays to go for broke—particularly when you have little to lose.
That was the case for Joey Logano in Friday’s time trials for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7 p.m. ET on FOX). Logano’s crew made significant adjustments to his No. 22 Team Penske Ford between the second and final rounds of knockout qualifying, and the changes paid off with Logano’s third Coors Light Pole Award and fifth front-row start of the season.
Logano earned the top spot on the grid for Saturday night’s race with a lap at 127.071 mph, touring the .75-mile race track in 21.248 seconds, .046 seconds faster than the effort of second-place qualifier Denny Hamlin (126.796 mph).
Kurt Busch (126.606 mph) will start third, followed by AJ Allmendinger (126.570 mph) and Kevin Harvick (126.428 mph).
Before the final round, Logano’s crew loosened the car up, enhancing its ability to turn through the corners.
“When you’re sitting 11th on the board (actually 10th after the second round), you’ve really got only one spot to lose, so we swung at it,” said Logano, who notched his first pole at Richmond and the 11th of his career. “It’s not normal for us. Normally, we’re really fast in the first round, and it’s hard for us to stay that fast throughout it.
“But they did a great job of keeping it fast and getting it faster. It’s fun because you go out and run all these laps. That (pole-winning) lap didn’t actually feel good. You’ve got seven or eight laps on your tires, and you’re sliding around a lot. It’s funny, but the pole-sitting car’s sliding around all over the place on old tires out there.”
Hamlin was fastest in the second session, but tire wear was a factor in his second-place run in the third round.
“We just lost a little bit too much grip that final run and came up a little bit short,” said Hamlin, who said he is fully recovered from the neck spasms that forced him out of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after 22 laps at Bristol.
“Still, if you had asked me before today, I would have taken second and moved on. I think the longer runs (in race trim) typically suit us a little bit better, but having a good starting spot, though, will definitely be a benefit for us (on Saturday) night.”
In the second NASCAR Sprint Cup race of his career, Chase Elliott will start 16th. Danica Patrick advanced to the second round of knockout qualifying and earned the 21st spot on the grid, five positions ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was eliminated in the first round.
Jeb Burton and Brendan Gaughan failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Toyota Owners 400
1. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 127.071 mph.
2. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 126.796 mph.
3. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 126.606 mph.
4. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 126.570 mph.
5. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 126.428 mph.
6. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 126.115 mph.
7. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 126.027 mph.
8. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 125.821 mph.
9. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 125.587 mph.
10. (18) David Ragan, Toyota, 125.471 mph.
11. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 125.348 mph.
12. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 124.977 mph.
13. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 126.416 mph.
14. (55) Brett Moffitt #, Toyota, 126.410 mph.
15. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 126.357 mph.
16. (25) Chase Elliott(i), Chevrolet, 126.328 mph.
17. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 126.310 mph.
18. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 126.227 mph.
19. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 126.180 mph.
20. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 126.168 mph.
21. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 125.757 mph.
22. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 125.657 mph.
23. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 125.511 mph.
24. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 124.960 mph.
25. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 127.310 mph.
26. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 127.262 mph.
27. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 127.071 mph.
28. (98) Josh Wise, Ford, 127.053 mph.
29. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 126.892 mph.
30. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 126.826 mph.
31. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, 126.802 mph.
32. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 126.695 mph.
33. (30) Jeff Green(i), Chevrolet, 126.654 mph.
34. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 126.559 mph.
35. (32) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 126.541 mph.
36. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 126.517 mph.
37. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Owner Points
38. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Owner Points
39. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Owner Points
40. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Owner Points
41. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Owner Points
42. (33) Alex Kennedy #, Chevrolet, Owner Points
43. (34) Reed Sorenson, Ford, Owner Points
Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images