NASCAR’s Matt Kenseth couldn’t suppress his smile.
He shattered the track record at Kansas Speedway on Friday in claiming the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup STP 400 with a qualifying speed of 191.864 mph.
But that wasn’t the reason he called it “the most exciting pole” he’s ever won. After all, he’s won just nine poles in his career, a paltry number for a former Sprint Cup champion who has won 25 career races, including Las Vegas last year and the fall race at Kansas Speedway last year.
No, what made this one special is Kenseth, now driving a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, knocked former Roush Fenway teammates Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. off the pole after each had broken the track record in their Fords.
“That was kind of cool,” said Kenseth. “That was pretty neat for me … not just because they’re from there, but having those guys be as dominant as they were all day and to be 1-2, you knew you were going to have to beat those guys to be on the pole.
“Even before qualifying, they were the fastest cars by far in practice. So it was cool to beat those guys knowing as strong as they were all day.”
Stenhouse, a Cup rookie who won the Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway last fall, and Edwards, of Columbia, took part in a Roush Fenway testing of the new Gen-6 cars at Kansas Speedway earlier this month, and it showed.
First Stenhouse, with a speed of 191.734 mph, broke the track record of 191.36 mph set by Kasey Kahne in October. Then Edwards, the fourth-to-last driver to make a run, topped Stenhouse with a speed of 191.748 mph.
Finally Kenseth, the second-to-last driver to take the track, blew away his former teammates with his lap, which was the fourth of the day to break Kahne’s mark. Sam Hornish Jr., in a Penske Ford, also broke the record with a 191.401 mph and will start in the second row alongside Stenhouse on Sunday.
“It was fun while it lasted,” Edwards said of what would have been his first pole in a Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway, where he wants to win in the worst way. “Man, I really wanted to be on the pole.
“The whole field has to feel bad getting beat by Matt Kenseth in qualifying,” Edwards joked, referring to Kenseth’s reputation as a poor qualifier. “Let me tell you, Matt must have one really fast race car.”
Several factors contributed to the slew of track records on Friday, including the new, faster Gen-6 car; the repaved and reconfigured Kansas Speedway surface with variable banking; and the cooler temperatures.
“These Gen-6 cars are fast, for sure,” said Stenhouse. “I think you’ve seen that over the races that we’ve had so far. The new pavement had kind of aged in, and I feel like it’s ready to go. The cold temperatures here, I think, are playing a factor in it. I wish one of us had the track record right now. That would be nice. But we’ll have to try to get it next time we come back.”
Stenhouse now has the ride in the No. 17 Ford that formally belonged to Kenseth, and both felt a comfort level from their victories at Kansas Speedway last fall.
“I really like the track,” Kenseth said. “It’s fun to go that fast when you’re in control, and you get to go a little faster than everybody else. You have to have a car that is comfortable enough to do that.”
Clint Bowyer of Emporia, Kan., qualified 10th, and Jamie McMurray of Joplin, Mo., was 14th. Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski and Penkse Racing teammate Joey Logano, whose teams were penalized last week by NASCAR for illegal parts, struggled. Logano qualified 22nd, Keselowski 33rd.