CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson scored his first Monster Energy All-Star Race pole early Friday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Larson, who is racing in his second All-Star race after advancing to the main event last year through the Monster Energy Open, bested Kyle Busch in the second round of the unique qualifying system that included three laps and a mandatory four-tire pit stop with no pit road speed limit.
The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet was the slowest of the five drivers to advance to the final round of qualifying and said between rounds that he believed he was capable of going faster during the second round of qualifying.
“The first round I definitely under drove coming into the pit stall. I was loose in three and four, so my lap was a little slow. But then my pit crew made up some time for us and allowed us to barely make it into the final round,” said Larson, who spun in practice earlier Friday but had the fastest practice speed. “I knew what I could do to go better and picked up a little speed on my initial lap and came down pit road a lot harder.”
Because he was the slowest of the five cars that advanced, Larson went out first in the second round and backed up what he said between qualifying rounds. His three laps combined with a lightning fast 13.1-second pit stop resulted in a 144.543 mph average at 112.626 seconds.
“Our pit stop was even better that last round. My engine stumbled some and probably cost me a few tenths on the last lap there,” Larson said.
Larson then had to watch as each of the other four drivers – Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick – took their shots at knocking him off the pole.
“I knew everybody would try and push a little harder that last round. So I figured a couple of them would slide through their stalls and mess up. I just wanted to be mistake free,” Larson said.
Johnson was the first to make his attempt and looked like he had a shot at doing so, but was too fast coming down pit road and slid through his pit box, costing him valuable time and a shot at the pole.
Kyle Busch was next and he put together a clean run, but he came up just short of Larson’s average speed at 143.826 mph. Kurt Busch was next to hit the track and he appeared to beat Larson’s time with a 144.543 mph average, but his car was found to have two loose lug nuts. That resulted in a 10 second penalty, which put Larson back on the pole with only Harvick left to qualify.
Harvick, the fastest man in the first round of qualifying at 144.313 mph at 112.256 seconds, was unable to match Larson’s time. His 143.504 mph average left him third behind Kyle Busch and Larson.
Johnson ended up fourth, with Kurt Busch fifth after the 10-second lug nut penalty.
The rest of the starting field was set based on times in the opening round of qualifying. Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his final All-Star Race start, qualified sixth. Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray were seventh through 10th.
Chris Buescher qualified 11th for his first All-Star Race, followed by Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Newman had the most interesting moment in qualifying as he lost control of his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet as he was coming out of turn four as he prepared to make his pit stop. He slid through turn four but managed to keep his car off the wall and he brought the car down pit road to the attention of his crew before he finished his qualifying attempt.