By: Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
LONG POND, Pa. – Martin Truex Jr. found a lot more than light at the end of the Tunnel on Friday afternoon at Pocono Raceway.
Gaining time on the rest of the field through Turn 2—the Tunnel Turn—at the 2.5-mile triangular race track, Truex put his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota on the pole for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 (on NBCSN at 1:30 p.m. ET), knocking fellow Toyota Camry driver Carl Edwards out of the top starting spot.
It’s not that Truex and his team made a special point of emphasis on that particularly tricky corner. It just worked out that way, earning Truex his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Pocono and the 10th of his career.
“For whatever reason, today—all day long—I felt comfortable there, more so than past times here,” said Truex, who ran his fastest lap of the day (179.244 mph) in the third and final round of knockout qualifying for the 21st NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season. “The first race here (in June) we really struggled in the Tunnel Turn.
“We kind of focused on it a little bit coming back, as far as just making sure it was closer to Turn 1 and Turn 3 and not something that would really handcuff us so bad. So maybe that had something to do with it—I’m not sure—but it just kind of worked out that way, for whatever reason.
“Each round I felt a little bit more comfortable and was able to gain a little more time there, and the third round I was able to just kind of sail off in there and get a little bit lucky and hit it right. It’s one of those corners that, if you take a risk going in, nine out of 10 times it doesn’t pay off coming out of the corner. This time it did, and we were able to take advantage of it.”
On the strength of his run through the Tunnel Turn, Truex covered the distance in 50.211 seconds, .104 seconds faster than Edwards (178.873 mph), who thought he had the pole won when he completed his lap in the final round.
“As I crossed the line, I felt like, ‘That’s it’,” said Edwards, who was a close second to Kyle Busch in pole qualifying last week at Indianapolis. “But after seeing what (Truex) ran, I thought ‘Well, maybe I could go back and change this or that,’ but that was a really good lap for me. It just was.
“You can always go back and pick your lap apart, but the last two weeks, Indy and here, I was pretty proud of my lap, and they just got us.”
Paul Menard (178.671 mph) qualified third, the fastest of three Richard Childress Racing drivers in the top 12, with Ryan Newman placing fifth and Austin Dillon placing 12th. That’s the first time all three RCR Chevrolets have cracked the top 12 for the same race since August of 2014 at Michigan.
Denny Hamlin claimed the fourth spot on the grid. Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano will start from positions six through 10, respectively.
Subbing for ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr., six-time Pocono winner Jeff Gordon advanced to the second round but went no farther, qualifying 24th. Gordon made two runs in the first round to ensure he would make the second, and that eventually cost him.
“The first time out, the car was pretty close, a little bit tight, but we should have been better that first time out, and then we wouldn’t of had to gone out the second time,” Gordon said. “But overall just too tight over the Tunnel (Turn).
“The car is really good down in (Turn) 1. I picked up speed every time we went out. I think having to do that last run our third time on tires didn’t really give us a good chance to advance and get the lap that we wanted. It’s still a work in progress.”
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Pennsylvania 400
1. (78) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 179.244 mph.
2. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 178.873 mph.
3. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 178.671 mph.
4. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 178.540 mph.
5. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 178.433 mph.
6. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 178.394 mph.
7. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 178.359 mph.
8. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 177.571 mph.
9. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 177.413 mph.
10. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 177.151 mph.
11. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 177.082 mph.
12. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 176.835 mph.
13. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 177.322 mph.
14. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 177.281 mph.
15. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 177.183 mph.
16. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 177.054 mph.
17. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 176.988 mph.
18. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 176.880 mph.
19. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 176.574 mph.
20. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 176.478 mph.
21. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 176.091 mph.
22. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 176.084 mph.
23. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 175.901 mph.
24. (88) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 175.706 mph.
25. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 175.603 mph.
26. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 175.404 mph.
27. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 174.985 mph.
28. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 174.257 mph.
29. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 174.236 mph.
30. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 173.826 mph.
31. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 173.534 mph.
32. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 173.491 mph.
33. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 173.077 mph.
34. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 172.874 mph.
35. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 172.209 mph.
36. (98) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 171.716 mph.
37. (32) Jeb Burton(i), Ford, 171.429 mph.
38. (30) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 170.451 mph.
39. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 169.750 mph.
40. (55) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 158.615 mph.