CONCORD, N.C. – One week after making his return to NASCAR competition after a brief hiatus, Matt Kenseth earned the pole for the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday evening.
Kenseth, wheeling a car decaled like the one Mark Martin wheeled to a victory in the All-Star Race in 1998, completed the unique qualifying format with an overall time of 2:07.644 at 126.915 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row for Saturday’s All-Star Race by his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who timed in at 2:08.137 at 126.427 mph.
Saturday’s All-Star race will feature a unique rules package, which includes restrictor plates, aero ducts, a taller spoiler and a different splitter on the front of the car designed to encourage passing at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval.
“Handling wasn’t much of an issue with restrictor plates, so I couldn’t really mess that up too bad,” said Kenseth. “I’m glad we had a decent day today. We didn’t really do much but what we did do was good, so that’s a definite positive.”
Kenseth made his return to NASCAR competition last weekend at Kansas Speedway after sitting out the first 11 races of the year. He lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing following the conclusion of the 2017 season to Erik Jones and didn’t have a job by the time the Daytona 500 rolled around in February.
His return to competition last weekend at Kansas Speedway ended in disappointment after being involved in a crash on lap 254, resulting in a 36th-place finish. Now just one week later Kenseth will chase a $1 million payday from the pole of the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race.
“I don’t really know what to expect for tomorrow yet,” Kenseth said. “It’s always good to start up front no matter what the racing’s like. No matter where you’re at it’s always neat to win the pole, especially here with all the rest of this stuff involved.”
The single-car qualifying format for the All-Star Race featured three timed laps as well as a four-tire pit stop between laps two and three. There was no pit road speed limit and because of rain earlier in the day teams were unable to practice their pit road entries, which created a spectacle as drivers rocketed down pit road towards their pit stalls.
Stenhouse was among the first drivers to make his qualifying attempt. While he was reasonably fast on the track, he made up a large amount of time on pit road when his crew opted to start with the left-side tires instead of changing right-side tires first, as is the norm.
“I knew that we were going to do left sides like right before I pulled out,” Stenhouse said. “Obviously the guys had been working on that and looking at the top five or so in qualifying all did lefts first, so obviously there was a little bit of speed there. So that was cool to see.”
Stenhouse ended his qualifying effort at the top of the charts, but his stay at the top was brief. Kenseth soon made his qualifying effort and much like Stenhouse’s crew, the crew of Kenseth’s No. 6 Ford started with the left-side tires and completed his pit stop with the right-side tires.
Solid speed on the track and a fast pit stop propelled Kenseth to the top of the charts, a position he held for the remainder of qualifying.
Clint Bowyer qualified third ahead of Kevin Harvick, giving Stewart-Haas Racing a lockout of the second row and Ford a sweep of the first two rows. Martin Truex Jr. was the fastest Toyota in fifth, followed by Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano.
Jimmie Johnson was the first driver to make his qualifying attempt and he qualified 11th. Jamie McMurray would have qualified in the top-five were it not for five-second penalty for a loose lug nut, dropping him all the way to 12th.
Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne completed All-Star Race qualifying. Newman, Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Kahne were all penalized for loose lug nuts while Larson overshot his pit stall by three pit stalls when he attempted to make his pit stop, costing him several seconds.