RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Matt Kenseth won the pole position for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway.
The 2003 series champion needed only four laps in three rounds of qualifying Friday, outrunning final-round qualifiers like Joey Logano, who was fastest in each of the first two rounds, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made it to the final round, but will start 12th.
“I don’t get a lot of poles so any time I get a pole, it’s pretty special,” Kenseth said.
The pole was just the 19th for Kenseth, who will make his 623rd career start this weekend, and his second at Richmond. He and teammates Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and rookie Daniel Suarez will be trying to give Joe Gibbs Racing its first victory of the season at a track where they have been dominant in recent years. Gibbs cars have won the last three races on the 0.75-mile oval.
“I was reminded last week that I’ve led zero laps this year and I think I have like negative two stage points, or whatever they are,” said Kenseth, who arrived here 20th in the point standings after eight races. “They took some away because we’ve been so bad early in races, so hopefully we can turn that around Sunday and stay up front and hopefully be in the mix at the end of the day.”
Kenseth has won twice at Richmond, the last in the fall race in 2015.
Hamlin, who grew up about 20 miles from the track, will start 28th while Busch will start seventh and Suarez 11th.
Ryan Blaney, driving for the Wood Brothers, will start second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Logano.
“It’s so frustrating when you win the first two rounds and the one that pays the money you are not there,” Logano said.
For Blaney, it will mark the third time he starts on the front row this season, again leaving him one spot shy of qualifying for the Clash at Daytona, the season-opening exhibition race before the Daytona 500. Pole winners from the previous year are guaranteed a spot, along with selected others.
“I really want to race in the Clash at Dayton, so these seconds are really hurting,” Blaney said. “That race to me is like the coolest one, so I want to try to get a pole to race that.”
His team almost got him that spot, but Kenseth’s speed was 121.076 mph, and Blaney came in at 120.854 after running five total laps.
“It was a good effort,” he said. “I didn’t think we were very good in Round 1. … We got better for Round 2 and better for Round 3.”
Kevin Harvick, the only driver with multiple poles this year, will start sixth.
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