Brad Keselowski will start on pole position for this Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The driver of the #2 Ford led a front-row lock-out for Team Penske, with team-mate Joey Logano lining up second in the #22.
Near-perfect conditions greeted the NASCAR Cup Series drivers as the first of three qualifying rounds began. The session would be all about drivers keeping on top of ever improving lap-times, with drivers able to find more pace if they made multiple runs.
For the first two sessions, Ryan Blaney was holding the field hostage. Having finished fastest in the sole practice session prior to qualifying, the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Fusion transferred it’s speed over to qualifying and looked nigh on unbeatable. Entering the final round, Blaney must have had his sights set on taking a second career pole position.
That, however, was not meant to be. The final session was just five minutes long, meaning the twelve drivers in the fight for the pole just had one lap to try and do it. This final lap was where it all came undone. As he entered turns one and two, he seemed to get loose and jump up a lane or two above the ideal groove. This mistake cost him several tenths of a second that would be unrecoverable for the rest of the lap.
Blaney’s mistake opened the door for someone else to steal pole position. Keselowski would lay down a 203.097 mph average lap speed on his run to give himself a home state pole position, with team-mate Logano just six-thousandths of a second slower in the second position.
“Paul Wolfe [Keselowski’s crew chief] and my team, they kept dialling in on the car and kept working on it,” said Keselowski after climbing out of the car, “I’ve got goosebumps. It feels really good to run well here at Michigan. This is my home track. A lot of fans here. I have to put my glasses on so nobody can see me. Really cool. Really special.”
Kevin Harvick made it a Ford 1-2-3 in qualifying, with the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing driver lining up third for Sunday’s race. He’ll share row two with Matt Kenseth in the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. Both drivers have won at Michigan in past seasons and will be hoping to do so again this weekend; especially Kenseth, who needs a win to claim a spot in the championship playoffs.
Chase Elliott‘s bid to end his run of three consecutive second place finishes at Michigan will be slightly bolstered with a solid fifth place qualification in the #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He’ll head the third row of the grid alongside Kyle Busch – whose weekend got off to a rough start after hitting the wall in practice earlier in the day. His run of three consecutive pole positions also came to an end in qualifying, but no one should count him out. He won at this track back in 2011 after starting from seventeenth.
Both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers made it through to the final session, with Jamie McMurray putting in an impressive run to take seventh place ahead of team-mate Kyle Larson in ninth. Larson has won the last two races held at Michigan International Speedway and will be hoping to make it three in a row by taking the #42 Target Chevrolet to victory lane on Sunday. Splitting the two team-mates was rookie Erik Jones in the #77 in an impressive eighth place.
Denny Hamlin qualified his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in tenth place. Hamlin’s participation in Sunday’s race all depends on whether his girlfriend, Jordan Fish, goes into labour with their second child or not. Should Hamlin have to head home, NASCAR Truck Series driver Christopher Bell will be installed as a substitute. Bell is expected to make laps in tomorrow’s practice session to prepare for this possibility.
Clint Bowyer will line up eleventh in the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion, with Blaney taking the final position in the top twelve after his costly mistake on his hot lap. Ryan demonstrated great speed in his #21 Ford Fusion during the first two sessions, so don’t be at all surprised if he makes it up to the sharp end during the race to contend for the victory.
Martin Truex Jr, the championship leader, failed to qualify for the final session by just a matter of hundredths. He will start thirteenth in the #78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry. It was a difficult session also for the three remaining Hendrick Motorsports drivers, with none of them being able to join Chase Elliott in the top twelve. Dale Earnhardt Jr will line-up nineteenth, with Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne taking twenty-second and twenty-third respectively.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers now have two practice sessions tomorrow to prepare their cars for Sunday’s race. The Pure Michigan 400 is one of the four remaining races before the championship playoffs begin, so expect the competition to be intense as drivers vie for the final few spots in the top sixteen.
2017 NASCAR Cup Series – Pure Michigan 400 – Qualifying Top Twelve
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