|Matt Sullivan/Getty Images|
Paul Menard had the hottest shoe on the hottest day of the NASCAR season.
Torching Chicagoland Speedway with a lap at 180.102 mph (29.998 seconds) in the final round of Saturday’s knockout qualifying session at the 1.5-mile track, Menard won the pole for Sunday’s Overton’s 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Nearly 10 years had passed since Menard last claimed a Busch Pole Award. His only previous top qualifying effort came at Daytona in July 2008, when he was driving a Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
But on Saturday, Menard’s Wood Brothers Ford was .022 seconds faster than the No. 12 Team Penske Ford of Ryan Blaney (179.880 mph).
Earlier in the day, Menard finished eighth in the Overton’s 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland, under brutally hot conditions that saw the temperatures in the cockpits of the race cars reach 150 degrees.
Between the race and Cup qualifying, Menard used the brief break to recover.
"After the race I went back to the hauler—I’m on my fourth or fifth different pair of underwear," Menard quipped. "Just been keeping it fresh, I guess. Drank some pickle juice, lot of ice packs and I feel pretty good.
"Pickle juice gives you all your salt back. It’s an old wives’ tale, I guess, but we did it in football all the time, and it seemed to work. I hadn’t drunk pickle juice in a while, but I thought today was a good day to do it."
Menard had the fastest lap in the first round at 180.120 mph but slipped to seventh in the second. But in the round that counted, he had just enough to edge Blaney for the pole. Menard’s only victory in NASCAR’s premier series came in the 2011 Brickyard 400.
"It sucks to have a ‘1’ there—now we have a ‘2’ in the pole column," Menard said. "Now we have to get rid of that ‘1’ in the win column and make another ‘2’."
After receiving IV fluids after the Xfinity race, Chase Elliott qualified third at 179.748 mph, followed by Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer.
"I felt like I got all I could," Elliott said. "I don’t really know what I could’ve done different in that last round. It was good, much better than we have been qualifying, so it was nice and hopefully turns out that way tomorrow."
Five-time Cup winner Kevin Harvick will start 13th, having been bumped out of the final round at the last second when Martin Truex Jr. cracked the top 12 on his second attempt in the second round. Truex, winner of the most recent race at Sonoma, locked up the 12th position on the grid.
Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez will start from positions seventh through 11th, respectively.
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