Kenseth beats Gordon for pole at Darlington
Matt Kenseth scored just his fourth career NASCAR Sprint Cup pole position on Friday, setting a record pace to claim the top spot for Saturday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington raceway.
Kenseth’s speed of 179.514 mph was enough to break the track record set last year by his Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle, earning him his fourth pole since October of 2005 and his career-best start at the track “Too Tough To Tame”.
Gordon will start on the outside pole with a top speed of 179.514 mph, followed by Newman, Sam Hornish, Jr. and rookie Joey Logano.
Kenseth, not known for his qualifying prowess, topped three-time Darlington pole winner Ryan Newman and seven-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon for the top spot
“It was a great lap for us,” said Kenseth. “We made a lot of changes on our car today. We’ve been able to make it worse and we’ve been able to make it better and kind of feel what was going on, so I felt pretty good about that.”
Battling a slick racetrack infamous for being difficult to get a handle on, team were thrown for an extra loop after a torrential rain shower inundated the track just hours before the start of qualifying.
“The track did feel a little different than I thought it would,” said Kenseth. “That rubber was just a little bit slick, but it obviously had pretty good grip – especially in (turns) three and four.”
“I didn’t really know what to expect after the rain,” said Newman. “When the rain usually comes, it changes the chemistry a little bit and obviously cools the track off. So the way the tires adhere to it…it’s definitely different. I felt the car had more speed in it.”
Logano posted his career-best Sprint Cup starting spot with his fifth-place effort, an impressive effort despite his lack of experience at the track.
“Pretty much all I knew (about Darlington) was the amount I played on a video game, watched taped and talked to as many people as I can,” said Logano. “I came down here about a month ago with Cale Yarborough and he gave me a few laps around here. I felt like I did as much as I could to prepare myself coming into this.
“I talked to Kyle (Busch) a lot after the first practice just picking his brain about turn one and trying to figure that out. It was helpful, obviously.”
Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson was the only casualty during the session, breaking loose in turn two and backing into the outside wall. Johnson was unhurt in the crash, but will have to go to the rear of the field in a back-up car.
“It’s a nail-biter, white knuckle experience qualifying here,” said Johnson’s teammate and car co-owner, Jeff Gordon. “I didn’t run my second lap just because it took everything I could to run that one lap. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking when I got out of the car.”
Jeff Burton, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top ten qualifiers. Among those outside the top-35 in owners points to make the field were Max Papis, Regan Smith, David Gilliland, Brad Keselowski, Scott Riggs and Sterling Marlin.
Two drivers, Scott Speed and Jeremy Mayfield, failed to qualify for Saturday night’s event.
+ Set by Owner Points
* Denotes Rookie
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