Mar 21, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
Last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth had a roller-coaster outing that saw him finish 13th after charging to the lead following an early crash that left his car’s rear end crumpled in.
The former Sprint Cup champion is surely hoping for a smoother time of things at Auto Club Speedway this weekend, and he may just have that after earning the 12th Cup pole of his career this afternoon ahead of Sunday’s Auto Club 400.
Kenseth logged a time of 38.438 seconds at 187.315 miles per hour in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. That was just enough to hold off Brad Keselowski, whose last-second attempt to take pole in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford missed by .043 of a second.
“We were pretty fast all three rounds and we were able to get three really clean laps, which is hard to do here,” Kenseth told MRN Radio.
“The tires drop off a lot, balance changes a little bit, and the track was changing as well. I’m proud of those guys. They gave me a great car today and I didn’t mess it up, so it turned out good.”
Meanwhile, Keselowski – the new Sprint Cup points leader – continued his impressive work in the knockout qualifying format with his fourth consecutive front row start.
As a low-grip race track with bumps and noticeable seams in the surface, Auto Club Speedway can be a tough track to get a hold of. But as Keselowski told MRN, drivers can’t afford to manage their rubber if they want to advance deeper into qualifying.
“You can’t save [tires] or you don’t get to the next round,” he said. “We weren’t where we wanted to be for the first two sessions, but we worked on it, kept going, and got it to where we wanted it to be. If we’d saved, we never would’ve made it that far.”
Five-time Fontana winner Jimmie Johnson will roll off from the inside of Row 2 alongside fellow California native Kevin Harvick. Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon make up Row 3, followed by Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose in Row 4, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart in Row 5, and Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. in Row 6.
Denny Hamlin, who suffered a season-altering back injury in last spring’s race at Fontana, will start 13th and next to defending Auto Club 400 champion Kyle Busch. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be right behind them in 15th at the drop of the green.
Crafton subbed in today for Paul Menard in the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, while Menard tended to his wife and newborn daughter, Remi, back home in North Carolina.
However, Menard will be in the No. 27 for Sunday’s race, although he’ll have to start at the rear of the field per NASCAR rules.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP QUALIFYING – AUTO CLUB 400
1. Matt Kenseth, 38.438 seconds/187.315 mph
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Clint Bowyer
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Joey Logano
8. Marcos Ambrose
9. Carl Edwards
10. Tony Stewart
11. Kyle Larson
12. Martin Truex Jr.
ELIMINATED IN ROUND TWO
13. Denny Hamlin
14. Kyle Busch
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
16. Ryan Newman
17. Kurt Busch
18. A.J. Allmendinger
19. Brian Vickers
20. Austin Dillon
21. Aric Almirola
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
23. Michael Annett
24. Greg Biffle
ELIMINATED IN ROUND ONE
25. Jamie McMurray
26. Kasey Kahne
27. Danica Patrick
28. Justin Allgaier
29. David Gilliland
30. Matt Crafton
31. Casey Mears
32. Parker Kligerman
33. David Reutimann
34. Cole Whitt
35. Travis Kvapil
36. Reed Sorenson
37. Brian Scott
38. Josh Wise
39. Ryan Truex
40. Alex Bowman
41. David Ragan
42. Joe Nemechek
43. Landon Cassill
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