For the second straight qualifying session at a 1.5 mile track, it was important to be fast in every round. Fourth-place points guy Matt Kenseth showed consistency paid off and rocketed to the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Texas.
Kenseth laid down a lap of 27.095 seconds (199.299 mph) in the final round for his second pole of the season, the other one coming at Auto Club Speedway in March.
“It just amazes me every time we qualify here how fast you can run, especially when it cools off a little bit and the grip level,” Kenseth said of Texas.
It was his first pole at the Texas track and has two wins, coming in 2002 and 2011.
The driver who stole the show was Tony Stewart, who turned the fastest qualifying lap ever at 200.111mph in the second round. It shattered his teammate Kurt Busch’s speed of 198.517 mph that was set at Charlotte three weeks ago. Jimmie Johnson first broke the track qualifying record in the first round at 199.734 mph, until Stewart ran a sub-27 second lap and the only driver to break the 200 mph mark.
“I never dreamed you’d seen a lap time around here, unless they paved it or something different happened to the racetrack,” Kenseth said of Stewart’s lap. “It’s incredibly fast.”
Points leader Jeff Gordon starts next to Kenseth on Sunday and barely missed grabbing the pole by .001. Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson slotted in third behind the top two. Johnson is out of the Chase of the Sprint Cup and won the last two fall events at 17 drivers broke the old track qualifying record (198.282 mph) set by Kevin Harvick in April.
“The faster we go, the narrower the track is, the less side-by-side racing you’ll have,” Johnson said of the speeds. “The one thing we do have working for us is this an abrasive race track and we do move around.”
During qualifying, Turn 1 proved more of a guessing game, as Turn 3 was a little easier to negotitate.
“(Turn) 1 is a little bit trickier,” Gordon said. “The transition from the straightaway into the corner, the car really loads up there. Turn 3 is a lot more forgiving corner. You’re more worried about whether it’s going to cut when it lands or in the middle, where in (turn) 1, you’re just hoping it sticks when you turn off into that banking
The only Hendrick driver left to compete for the 2014 championship is the four-time champ. He and Johnson have combined for a total of four wins at Texas Motor Speedway.
Hendrick power dominated five of the first six spots, with Kenseth the exception at the top spot. Five of the eight Chasers remaining will start in the top-10, with Kevin Harvick (fifth), Ryan Newman (seventh) and Joey Logano (10th).
Brad Keselowski starts 26th on Sunday and has to work his way up the front after not advancing into the second round of qualifying.
“Didn’t have the qualifying run we were looking for, but that’s part of the game,” Keselowski said. “There’s a lot of weekend left.”
Penske Racing won the spring Cup race at Texas with Logano in the spring. Keselowski has a best finish of second at the Fort Worth track in Nov. 2012 in his championship-winning season and also the last year for Dodge in the series.
The Sprint Cup Series has two practice sessions on Saturday to prepare for Sunday’s race. Green flag drops at 3 p.m. ET and will be shown live on ESPN.