Martin Truex Jr. came here to Kansas Speedway this weekend as the man to beat. He’s the current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader, and the winner of the season’s first race here.
Truex will remain out front for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 after winning the pole on Friday with a lap of 28.719 seconds (188.029 mph).
The victory will pay dividends beyond this weekend. The pole winner gets first pick of pit stalls. Truex will get his choice for Sunday, and next week at Martinsville (Va.), a short track where pit positon is as valuable as oceanfront property. His No. 78 car will definitely occupy the first pit stall next week.
“Obviously we needed this, this was a big one tonight with next week’s pit selection, so I’m just really proud of everybody,” Truex said. “We had great execution all day, making the right adjustments and right calls in qualifying there. I would say (pit position) is probably the biggest advantage of any track we go to, to have it there. We’ve already been working hard on Martinsville, and that’s certainly going to help us.”
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Truex had come tantalizingly close to victory at Kansas Speedway before finally breaking through the win here in May, so he’s in a familiar, and comfortable, spot.
“It’s nice to be able to step up and when there’s kind of something big on the line, to step up and make it happen,” Truex said. “It was fun and looking forward to starting up front here this week, and then also that first pit stall next week at Martinsville is huge.”
Kevin Harvick, fourth in point standings, will join Truex on the front row after a best qualifying lap of 28.772 seconds (187.682 mph). Like Truex, Harvick has enjoyed immense success at Kansas Speedway.
“I think every time that we come here it feels good, based on the fact that we’ve run so well here and qualified well and today was the same result,” Harvick said. “Obviously, you always want to qualify first, but knowing everything on the line for pit-stall selection for this week and next week, it’s definitely a good day. We can definitely race from there.”
Harvick’s qualifying run was successful, but not easy.
“For the most part it was three sketchy laps. The first time out it was really loose and tight on one end. It was hard to keep up with the car, but I did a good job adapting to the first run,” Harvick said.
Ryan Blaney originally took the third spot in qualifying, but word came from NASCAR on Friday night that the time was disallowed after the package tray did not maintain its original shape. Blaney will start Sunday’s race at the end of the 40-car field.
Brad Keselowski, second in points, qualified 11th on Friday.
“We had a good round two. Not a really good round one or three, and I’m not sure why,” Keselowski said. “We’ll have to look at the video and see what happened. It’s part of how it goes.”
Kyle Larson, third in the points race, will start Sunday’s race in 14th place.