By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. – Friday’s qualifying session for the Monster Energy All-Star Race was all about staying mistake-free.
Kurt Busch didn’t. Kyle Larson did, and that was the difference between starting first and starting fifth in NASCAR’s million-dollar exhibition race on Saturday night (at 6 p.m. ET on FS1).
In a unique qualifying format that features three laps punctuated by a four-tire pit stop, Busch posted the fastest time in the final round, but two loose lug nuts cost him 10 seconds in penalties and dropped him from the pole to fifth on the grid.
Larson’s total time in the money round was 112.626 seconds (143.839 mph), .010 seconds better than that of Kyle Busch (143.826 mph), who will start beside Larson on the front row. Kevin Harvick qualified third at 143.504 mph, followed by Jimmie Johnson at 138.827 mph (after a five-second penalty for pit crew over the wall too soon).
The deciding factor for the pole was pit road, where Larson’s team performed a 13.5-second stop, even though the rear tire changer tripped over a hose and fell as he rounded the rear of the car. A remarkable recovery kept the time in the box under 14 seconds, compared with 14.1 seconds for both Kyle Busch and Harvick.
“It’s my first time doing this,” Larson said. “It’s nice that we had a second round there to get a second tenth (of a second) out of that. I picked up some time there. This was all about not making mistakes…
“So I’m proud of everybody on this Target Chevy team, especially our pit crew. Our pit crew saved me in that first round to get us into this second round. And getting the pole is pretty sweet. It’s so much fun. I’ve been wanting to do that. It’s my fourth season in Cup now, and I have wanted to do it every year.”
For Larson it was a gratifying performance, considering he barely qualified for the final round.
With only Joey Logano left to make a run in the first round, Kyle Larson was on the bubble. Logano seemed likely to bump the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leader from the fast five until he carried too much speed onto pit road, overshot his stall by more than a full pit box and had to back up for service.
As Larson watched the proceedings on a hand-held device, the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet gave a surreptitious fist pump as Logano slid past his stall. That miscue closed out the first round with Harvick (144.313 mph) edging Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch (144.042 mph) for the best time by .271 seconds.
Kyle Busch and Johnson joined Harvick, Kurt Busch and Larson as the five finalists for the pole.
Even though he was third fastest in the final round, Harvick accomplished his mission.
“As you look at the lap, we probably could have run a couple tenths faster there, but, all in all, our goal was to not make any huge mistakes,” Harvick said. “I feel like starting up front with the way that the tires are and the way that everything is will be a huge benefit, because of the fact of your average position and all of the things that have to happen (to make the final 10 for the final segment of the Monster Energy All-Star race).
“We just didn’t want to start in the back, so lug nuts tight, not sliding through the pit box, don’t miss pit road and don’t overdrive the car. We probably could have all done a little bit better, but all in all, we didn’t make any huge mistakes, and that was the goal.”
The first round wasn’t without its anxious moments. Coming to pit road at the end of his second lap, Ryan Newman turned sideways in Turn 4 and lit up his tires. But Newman kept his No. 31 Chevy off the walls and brought it to his crew for service.
“I’m still not really sure what happened,” Newman said. “I guess I went from going too fast to way too slow. But I’m just really disappointed, obviously. I wanted to qualify better than that. It came out of nowhere and just jumped sideways on me.
“And then going down pit road I realized I was going way too slow. I wanted to give the guys a chance to do their thing. But that was it for us. The Caterpillar Chevrolet will start from the back and hopefully drive to the front.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified sixth, missing the cutoff for the final five by .092 seconds
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Concord, North Carolina
Friday, May 19, 2017
1. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 143.839 mph.
2. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 143.826 mph.
3. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 143.504 mph.
4. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 133.123 mph.
5. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 132.703 mph.
6. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 143.136 mph.
7. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 143.011 mph.
8. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 142.176 mph.
9. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 141.483 mph.
10. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 139.064 mph.
11. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 138.837 mph.
12. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 138.592 mph.
13. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 138.552 mph.
14. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 137.745 mph.
15. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 136.563 mph.
16. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 135.215 mph