BRISTOL, Tenn.—If history repeats itself on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth won’t have a problem with it.
The last time Kenseth won a pole at the high-banked .533-mile short track—back in 2005—he followed with a victory in the race.
In Friday’s time trials at Thunder Valley, with a lap at 128.632 mph (14.917 seconds) Kenseth earned the 14th Coors Light Pole Award of his career, his second at Bristol and his first of the season.
And that’s a good omen for a driver who hasn’t won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race since his seven-victory debut season with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.
Kenseth edged two-time Bristol winner Brad Keselowski (128.442 mph) for the top starting spot by .022 seconds. Carl Edwards (128.322 mph) qualified third, his best effort of the season so far, and reigning series champion Kevin Harvick (128.211 mph) will start fourth in Sunday’s Food City 500 to Support Steve Byrnes (1 p.m. on FOX).
Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano (who was fastest in each of the first two rounds of knockout qualifying), Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne earned the fifth through eighth spots on the grid, as all of the top eight qualifiers are former Bristol winners.
“We need to be able to go out and win races,” Kenseth said. “Last year and so far this year haven’t been particularly great for JGR. I think we’ve had two wins that weren’t plate races in the last year and a half as a company.
“So, obviously, as a company, we’ve got to get running better. … We’ve just got to keep working on it, and I’ve certainly got to be better. I need to do a better job, and I know that. I work at getting better every week, and I have, I think, since the first day I came into this sport.”
If Kenseth is to capitalize on his pole position, his team will have to improve the handling of the No. 20 Toyota in race trim.
“You have to be able to stay on your tires for a long time,” the 2003 series champion said. “You have to have good balance at the end of the run. You have to be pretty fast at the beginning of the run so you don’t give up spots on restarts—it is hard to pass later the run.
“I wasn’t really thrilled with the way my car drove in race trim (in practice) today, but in qualifying trim it would run a fast lap. So I certainly think we’ve got some work to do (in Saturday’s practice).”
So does Jimmie Johnson. Last week’s Texas winner didn’t survive the first elimination in qualifying and will start 28th in Sunday’s race. In fact, Kahne was the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to advance to the final round in Friday’s time trials.
David Ragan continued his solid effort in relief of injured Kyle Busch, qualifying 11th in the No. 18 JGR Camry.
Note: Brendan Gaughan and Ron Hornaday Jr. failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer
1. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 128.632 mph.
2. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 128.442 mph.
3. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 128.322 mph.
4. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 128.211 mph.
5. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 127.419 mph.
6. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 127.317 mph.
7. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 126.871 mph.
8. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 126.829 mph.
9. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 126.829 mph.
10. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 126.612 mph.
11. (18) David Ragan, Toyota, 126.436 mph.
12. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 126.262 mph.
13. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 127.081 mph.
14. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 127.073 mph.
15. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 126.562 mph.
16. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 126.503 mph.
17. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 126.428 mph.
18. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 126.088 mph.
19. (95) Michael McDowell, Ford, 125.947 mph.
20. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 125.939 mph.
21. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 125.831 mph.
22. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 125.798 mph.
23. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 125.609 mph.
24. (55) Brett Moffitt #, Toyota, 125.199 mph.
25. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 126.378 mph.
26. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 126.328 mph.
27. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 126.303 mph.
28. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 126.146 mph.
29. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 126.046 mph.
30. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 125.823 mph.
31. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 125.798 mph.
32. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 125.625 mph.
33. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 125.551 mph.
34. (26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 125.510 mph.
35. (98) Josh Wise, Ford, 125.453 mph.
36. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 125.158 mph.
37. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, Owner Points
38. (34) Chris Buescher(i), Ford, Owner Points
39. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, Owner Points
40. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Owner Points
41. (32) Mike Bliss(i), Ford, Owner Points
42. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, Owner Points
43. (33) Alex Kennedy #, Chevrolet, Owner Points
2 drivers failed to qualify.
44. (62) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 124.034 mph.
45. (30) Ron Hornaday Jr., Chevrolet, 123.682 mph.
Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images