By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – One week after a miserable return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Matt Kenseth wins the Busch Pole Award for the Monster Energy All-Star Race. In addition to Kenseth winning the pole, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. qualified second for the exhibition event. The last time Roush Fenway Racing swept the front row in any qualifying format was at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2013.
Kenseth’s Roush Fenway Racing team used a unique pit strategy in the wide open qualifying, changing tires on the left side of the car first, as opposed to the traditional right side first. His No. 6 #DoYouKnowJack Ford Fusion team tied with his teammate for fastest pit stop time, 16.1 seconds. A handful of other teams attempted the same strategy to varying levels of success. This all happened with virtually the entire practice rained out earlier in the day.
“The car drove good,” Kenseth said. “It seemed fine. It was our first laps on the track today with all the rain and Ricky was a huge help to me going out early and helping me with my braking in pit road and his spotter up there helping me. That was a big help to get us up there like that.”
Stenhouse provided some drama leaving pit road, catching a drainage grate. The hit sent sparks flying and the No. 17 Fastenal Ford Fusion sliding on the apron. Somehow, Stenhouse maintained control and put down the second fastest time of the night. Luckily, the car was undamaged in the incident.
“I saw that pothole and thought I would cut the corner as low as I could and I got right past the wall and saw that pothole and I was wide open and I hit it,” Stenhouse explained. “Yeah, that was not good on the equipment but my guys did an awesome job. No penalties. That was big. Any time you do a format like this, being penalty free is good. I do think I could have gotten to pit road better. Right now, I am glad that we beat the 48 and the 2 because those cars were really good at doing this last year. Track position will be pretty key come tomorrow night.”
With Kenseth on the pole and Stenhouse on the outside pole, Ford Performance swept the top-four qualifying positions. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick qualified third and fourth respectively. Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top-five qualifiers in his No. 78 5-Hour Energy / Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry. Austin Dillon was the highest qualifying Chevrolet in ninth. Jimmie Johnson, who was the first on track, qualified 11th.
Several teams that had fast pit stops that lost time due to loose lugnuts included Jamie McMurray (qualified 12thafter penalties), Kasey Kahne (17th), and Ryan Newman (13th). Denny Hamlin (14th) and Kyle Larson (16th) overshot their pit stalls and had to reverse back into the pit box.