It’s been more than four years since Martin Truex Jr. started on the pole for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, but that will change Saturday night when the green flag drops in the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Truex qualified first in a Cup race Friday for the first time since April 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway — a fact that wasn’t lost on him.
“Race car drivers don’t forget those kind of things,” Truex said. “I can tell you what springs I had in my Modified in 1998, so I remember the last pole at Texas like it was yesterday. Anytime you do great things, especially at this level in the Cup series, it’s not hard to forget how it happened, how the day went and what it felt like.”
Truex, who sat fourth entering the third round of qualifying, got around Kansas Speedway’s 1.5-mile tri-oval in 28.284 seconds at 190.921 mph in the final round to secure his eighth career pole.
During 15 previous Cup races at Kansas, he’d never qualified better than fourth, a feat he accomplished before the spring race last year.
Matt Kenseth, a two-time Cup winner at Kansas, led after the first and second rounds of qualifying, but he was bumped off the pole in the final round.
“All our Toyotas had a lot of speed in them,” Kenseth said. “I just couldn’t quite get that last lap that I wanted. We had a lot of speed. We just got off on our balance a little bit there at the end and Martin was able to get it.”
Truex’s one-car Furniture Row Racing team has a technical alliance with Kenseth’s four-car Joe Gibbs Racing powerhouse.
The other Gibbs drivers — Denny Hamlin, who will start third; Kyle Busch, who will be in the sixth spot; and Carl Edwards, who will start 12th — also reached the final round of qualifying.
But it’s Truex, who won the Xfinity Series pole at Kansas Speedway in 2005, who lines up as the man to beat.
Truex was the runner-up at Kansas in both 2012 races and boasts five top-10 finishes in the last eight Cup races at the track, where he’s always run well but often been unlucky.
Has Truex’s luck changed?
“We’ll find out tomorrow night,” said Truex, who added the biggest advantage of winning the pole will be having the first pit stall. “ … We’re going to go out there and put our best on the racetrack and hope it’s good enough.”
Kenseth, a two-time pole winner at Kansas, qualified second and will on the front row for the fourth time at the track.
During the fall race at Kansas, he was leading until the closing laps, when a bump from Joey Logano sent him into a spin.
Kenseth, who finished 14th in October’s Hollywood Casino 400 and was eliminated from the Chase a week later, got into a scrape with Logano again last week at Talladega.
The two drivers talked this week, but Kenseth declined to share details of that conversation when asked.
“If there was (anything to share), we would have made it a conference call,” he said.
Hamlin, who won the spring race in 2012 at Kansas, is the only driver to make the final 12 for qualifying at all 11 races this season.
Kurt Busch qualified fourth, followed by Brad Keselowski, who won the 2011 spring race at Kansas, and Busch’s brother, Kyle.
Logano, who has won the last two fall races at Kansas, qualified 14th, while Jimmie Johnson, the reigning spring-race winner, qualified 15th.
Johnson and the other three Hendrick Motorsports drivers — Chase Elliot (13th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (22nd) and Kasey Kahne (27th) — all failed to make the final round of qualifying.
Ryan Blaney, who qualified seventh, was the fastest-qualifying rookie.