FORT WORTH, Texas – He may not be in the playoffs any longer, but Ryan Blaney is still determined to make an impact during the final races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Blaney took a step towards accomplishing that mission on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway by earning the Busch Pole Award for the AAA Texas 500.
The 24-year-old driver from High Point, N.C., toured the 1.5-mile quad-oval in 26.932 seconds (200.505 mph) with his No. 12 Accella/Carlisle Ford, just a shade off the track-record lap set by Kurt Busch in qualifying one year ago.
Friday’s effort marked Blaney’s fifth Cup Series pole, his third of the season and first at Texas.
“It felt fast,” said Blaney of his pole lap. “That’s what you get with this night-time qualifying, is high speeds. That’s cool under the lights qualifying. We don’t get to do that very much … but speeds pick up and it’s been cold here today. We found a really good car all day and it’s nice to back it up in qualifying. That doesn’t mean a lot if you’re fast in practice and you blow it in qualifying.
“Really big thanks to this Carlisle group for giving me a really great race car and I’m excited for to see how it is in race trim tomorrow.”
He may not be running for a title any longer, but Blaney knows he still has work to do.
“That’s our job right now (is to play spoiler),” he noted. “On our team, we know we’re out of the playoffs … which stinks, but we still have three races to try to win.”
Ford Performance kept their strong season as a manufacturer going, sweeping the top five starting positions on the starting grid Friday night.
Alongside Blaney come Sunday will be Clint Bowyer, who took his No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Ford to a lap of 26.969 seconds (200.230 mph) in the final round of knockout qualifying.
Bowyer is seeking his third win of the season and a guaranteed spot in the Championship 4.
“After you come off of Martinsville … that little short-track and head out of there to this place, it feels crazy fast,” said Bowyer. “I’m really proud of my guys. It’s kind of an SHR kind-of deal. I’m proud of the shop for bringing four fast hot rods again. For the better part of the day, we were four of six or the seven (top) cars. That’s the speed part; now we got to make them live and be good on a long run.
“If we could do that, maybe we could just keep ourselves in this (title fight).”
Bowyer’s Stewart-Haas teammates – Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola – will share row two, while Blaney’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski completed the Ford rout of the top five.
Denny Hamlin was the fastest Toyota driver in sixth, followed by two more Ford drivers in Kurt Busch and Joey Logano. William Byron led the Chevrolet contingent in ninth, ahead of Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Erik Jones among the drivers who made it through all three knockout rounds.
Martin Truex Jr. was the first driver who failed to advance to the final round of qualifying, meaning the defending series champion will start 13th (27.278/197.962) on Sunday in the No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/5-Hour Energy Toyota.
Chase Elliott was the lowest of the playoff drivers in qualifying, timing in 16th-quick in the No. 9 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet.