Though he didn’t get into his pit stall as quickly as he would have liked in the unique Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race qualifying format, Clint Bowyer had enough speed in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to earn the pole position for Saturday night’s marquee event at Charlotte Motor Speedway (at 8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Though he hasn’t won a pole for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race since he won from the top spot at New Hampshire in 2007, Bowyer had enough muscle under the hood of his Ford Mustang on Friday to beat Kyle Busch by a decisive .177 seconds.
“Hell has frozen over,” Bowyer quipped. “It’s so easy to make mistakes in that (format), because it’s so out of the ordinary of what we usually do. I actually didn’t get on pit road near as good as I wanted to.
“I had my dead-set line that I was going to get to and would lift (off the gas) at, and when I didn't get on pit road like I needed to, I drove past that and I was like, 'Oh no, I'm going to get stuck.' and my eyes were getting bigger.”
Nevertheless, Bowyer negotiated the three laps plus a mandatory four-tire pit stop (with no pit road speed limit) in 118.794 seconds for a speed of 136.371 mph. The only other driver to break 119 seconds, Busch logged a speed of 136.168 mph.
“Our Fords have been extremely fast, but we haven't gotten them in Victory Lane like we'd like to yet, but we're knocking on the door,” Bowyer said. “Who knows? I just saw (Charlotte Motor Speedway president) Marcus Smith. I said, 'You know how bad I want to win your million dollars?’ I'm going to take his million dollars tomorrow night!”
Busch was pleased with his own performance and that of his team.
“I thought everything about the lap actually was pretty good,” said the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “I’m not sure how fast the lap itself was – how fast our car was on the lap.
“I felt like my progressiveness onto pit road and pit road speed was relatively good, and then the braking point and being able to just chatter the tires all the way into the box was really close. Really on the money there. I thought we got all we could get out of it.”
Kevin Harvick, Bowyer’s teammate at SHR, qualified third at 136.068 mph. Austin Dillon, who paced the field in Friday’s final practice, claimed the fourth starting spot for the race that pays $1 million to the winner.
“It feels really good to back it up,” Dillon said. “We had a really fast lap by ourselves right there. I’m proud of my pit crew for having a solid pit stop, and, man, the adrenaline is just flowing right now after hitting pit road with all that speed.
“It’s an intense situation, and you just want to give those guys that pit, and not slide it so it doesn’t focus on you. But, yeah, that was a good overall run for us.”
All told, 15 cars—those already locked into the All-Star Race—made qualifying runs. Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano will start from positions five through 10, respectively.
Three segment winners from the Monster Energy Open, which precedes the All-Star on Saturday, will earn spots in the main event, as will one driver selected by fan vote.
In an earlier qualifying session on Friday, Daniel Hemric, Dillon’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing, won the pole for the Open. Ford driver Michael McDowell claimed the second starting spot.
“I said on the radio this is the first box checked for the weekend,” Hemric said. “You’ve got to bring the fastest race car you can, and we’ve done that. Hopefully, we can do our jobs tomorrow and do what we need to do to get in the All-Star race and really have some fun.”