Kenseth off to fast start after taking pole for Chase opener
JOLIET, Ill. - The opening round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship won’t decide the NASCAR champion.
What it could do, though, is separate the contenders from the pretenders.
“It’s so important not to have a bad day in that first race,’’ said five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. “We’ll have a pretty good idea of who will be strong and who won’t right out of the gate.’’
The 10-race Chase opens today at Chicagoland Speedway with Matt Kenseth, ranked fourth in the 12-driver field, starting from the pole. It’s a prime piece of real estate considering track position is so critical these days.
With more and more passing done on pit road as opposed to the actual race track, Kenseth will be blessed with the best pit stall and, at least at the start of the race, no traffic as he attempts to open the Chase with a victory.
“I think it is always important and starting up front and having a good pit stall is nice,’’ Kenseth said. “Hopefully, you get a good start and get bonus points and try to keep up with the track a little better.’’
Kenseth had the fastest qualifying lap yesterday with a speed of 183.243 miles per hour in his Roush Fenway Racing
It’s just the sixth pole in 12 full seasons for Kenseth, and second this year.
“My cars have just been fast and driving really good,’’ Kenseth said. “I have probably done a little better job at not overdriving the car. That has been a fault of mine in qualifying in the past, overdriving and driving the corner too hard and messing up the rest of the corner.
“Back in the day when it was easier to pass it probably wasn’t as important to us as it is today. Maybe I am a little better at it, but the main thing is the cars have been really fast.’’
Busch, winner of the inaugural 2004 Chase, was pleased to qualify third.
“We feel like getting off to a strong start in the Chase is important, and it starts with qualifying,’’ Busch said. “We just can’t get ahead of ourselves. Each opportunity that we’re out on the track, we have to maximize.’’
Chase drivers took spots four through six, as Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski kept Kenseth in sight.
Non-Chase drivers Greg Biffle and Brian Vickers were seventh and eighth, and points co-leader Kyle Busch was ninth. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano, who is not Chase eligible, rounded out the top 10.
Johnson qualified 12th, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. 19th. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon was 23d, Tony Stewart qualified 26th, and Denny Hamlin was 27th.
Keselowski used a dominating run yesterday to win the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, where he hoped to carry some momentum into the opening round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Keselowski capitalized on Edwards running out of gas on pit road to grab a sizable lead that was never challenged. He beat Edwards to the finish line by 8.568 seconds for his third victory of the season.
It was the first win for the defending Nationwide champion since his July victory at Indianapolis. He broke his left ankle in a crash while testing at Road Atlanta four days after that win, and sat out three races.