Austin Dillon earned his third Busch Pole Award of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season Saturday evening at Chicagoland Speedway, his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet posting a speed of 176.263 mph around the 1.5-mile track.
Kevin Harvick will start second, his fifth front row start of the season in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, Dillon’s RCR teammate Daniel Hemric was third fastest, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Kurt Busch will roll out fifth on the grid.
The qualifying order is provisional until Sunday morning, but it remained a source of promise, especially for Dillon, the 2018 Daytona 500 winner who hasn’t had a top-20 finish in the last four races this season and has only a pair of top-10 finishes in total this year. The pole position, Dillon conceded, was a bit of a pleasant surprise compared to where he had run in practice earlier Saturday.
“You don’t usually see a guy that was 21st and 25th in both practice sessions jump up to the pole but I actually felt really confident in our car in the second practice,’’ Dillon said. “When we put on our stickers (tires) we had our car too low. We were hitting the track. So our speed wasn’t there because of that. .. I felt confident that our car was good and driving good. We just needed to get off [hitting] the track and we did and we went really fast. It was a good lap.’’
His teammate Hemric was equally as enthusiastic. Third place is a career best start for the 28-year-old first-year Cup driver.
“We all enjoy coming to these places where you can try to find little advantages throughout the weekend, practices and qualifying to try and dial in your car to have some versatility to it,’’ Hemric said. “If you can do that and maintain grip, it gives you more opportunities to move.
“I’m a big fan of this place and a big fan of all of the tracks like this. I’m excited about our speed there in our Camaro ZL1 and hopefully it’s a sign of what’s to come in the race.’’
Johnson will be making his best start since winning the pole position at Texas two months ago and Busch will similarly be making his best start since winning the outside pole at Bristol in April.
Michael McDowell, who will roll off from the seventh position, earned the best start in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford this season.
Defending race winner Kyle Busch was 17th fastest in qualifying, one position ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and fellow four-time 2019 race winner Martin Truex Jr.
*Post-race inspection in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race found two issues. The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Christopher Bell in the Xfinity Series was disqualified following post-race inspection after measuring too low. Bell, a four-time race winner this season, will be awarded last-place points because of the disqualification.
Additionally, race winner Cole Custer’s No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was missing one lug nut.
The Bell disqualification is significant considering his second place in the championship standings. With the points penalty, Custer moved into second place ahead of Bell and trails championship leader Tyler Reddick by 71 points. Bell is now in third place, 94 points behind Reddick.
Post-race inspection includes the top-five cars plus a random car. The shocks are unhooked post-race as they are in pre-race inspection.
“Once they said they were set to go on height sticks, we put the car up and it failed both front heights and the right rear,’’ Wayne Auton, the NASCAR Xfinity Series Managing Director told reporters following inspection.
Ironically, Auton noted, the No. 20 JGR team was one of the series’ “biggest assets” in testing and formulating a way to properly measure the cars post-race.
“We tried to come up with a way [to inspect] so we weren’t in the situation we are right now,’’ Auton said.’’
“We did a lot of testing last year and what we came up with last year is exactly the procedure we have now. We unhook the shocks and inspect the cars post-race the same way we do pre-race.’’
Auton said he spoke with the team’s crew chief Jason Ratliff, who was surprised by the turn of events. NASCAR took photos of the car and further inspected to see if there was damage from the race perhaps contributing to the situation, but determined there was none.
“It looked just like we started the race on it,’’ Auton said. “When we put the sticks on it, the car was low by a lot and the right rear was high a little bit. We use the same procedure on every car in the garage.’’
“Things happen, but we feel 100 percent confident we did our job just as we do with all the other cars.’’