Tony Stewart left it as late as possible to take pole position for the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, his first Pole Award since Atlanta in 2012.
Stewart begun his flying lap with less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock, crossing the line again after the chequered flag had dropped, leaving no-one any opportunity to take the position back.
“It felt really fast right to the middle of 3 and 4, and then it got really loose the last half of the corner,” said Stewart, who now has 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup poles to his name. “We didn’t know what we could run this third time, but I knew what Greg Biffle had run. The good thing is Chad Johnston [Stewart’s Crew Chief] made a really big change there to try and make it better. Like he said, ‘I was either going to make you quick, or I was going to make you 12th.’ I’m glad he made the change. He’s got a lot of confidence, and I really like that.”
The driver of the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet took pole with a speed of 195.454mph, narrowly beating Brad Keselowski, who once again made the most of the new qualifying format and will start from the front row for the fifth time in six races after setting a 195.419mph lap.
“I thought we had it,” said the 2012 Sprint Cup Champion, Keselowski. “but that’s why they do it this way. It’s really exciting, and, I think, a lot of fun to watch. We came up short, but we still have a lot to be proud of. We’re starting on the front row, and we need to make that count. Hopefully, we can pull that off. We did a lot of practice in race trim and not a lot in qualifying trim, so I guess that’s a good omen.”
Kevin Harvick set the pace in the opening session, breaking a NASCAR record for the fastest lap ever run on an intermediate circuit at 198.282mph, although he could only manage to take third place in the final shootout. Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five.
A notable name missing from the final top 12 shootout was Jimmie Johnson, who failed to make it through to the final session for the first time, qualifying 16th in the second session. Joey Logano remains the only driver to have made it through to the top 12 all six times this year.
Denny Hamlin qualified in sixth, while the remainder of the top 12 was filled by Trevor Bayne, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, Logano, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon.
47 cars attempted to qualify for the Duck Commander 500, with David Stremme, Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek and J.J. Yeley failing to make the 43-car grid.