Erik Jones will start on pole position for Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The result is Jones’ first pole position of his NASCAR Cup Series career and it comes during a fantastic rookie season so far.
Jones, who has shown great speed at Bristol both in prior Cup series races and in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, shot to the top of the time sheets late in the final five-minute session of qualifying. His lap time of 14.981 seconds was enough to edge out the previous provisional pole sitter, Kyle Larson, by just three-thousandths of a second. It was then a matter of waiting for the final few cars to trickle across the line. Despite a late offensive from Denny Hamlin, Jones would hold on to take his maiden pole position in the Cup series in the #77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry.
“I wasn’t sure if that lap was going to hold out, but I knew it was a pretty good lap time for us. I knew it was all I had so just cool to be coming off a good week at Michigan and then coming back here, started off right,” said Jones, post qualifying.
“It’s awesome. It’s cool any time you get your first pole in a series, but to do it at Bristol, that’s pretty cool. I’m just excited. We’ve got a really good 5-Hour Energy Camry. We had a good week last week and we’ve done a good job keeping the momentum going so far, so hoping for a good day tomorrow night. Obviously really excited to get the race going now and see what we can do.”
Larson’s time was within a whisker of Jones’ pole time and will subsequently line-up alongside him on the front row of the grid. Both drivers on the front row were the only drivers to lap in the sub fifteen-second barrier.
The second row of the grid belonged to Hendrick Motorsports, with Kasey Kahne putting in a somewhat unexpectedly fast lap to take third ahead of team-mate Chase Elliott; who had been running consistently around the top five throughout all three sessions in qualifying.
Joe Gibbs Racing entered qualifying hoping to take their eighth pole in the last nine Bristol races where qualifying hadn’t been cancelled due to rain. All four cars were looking fast, but all seemed to fade at various points. Matt Kenseth led the final session early on as one of the first runners, but he would fall to fifth as the session wore on.
Hamlin looked to perhaps have the fastest car, but on his all-important lap in the final round, he just couldn’t keep his #11 FedEx Camry nailed to the bottom groove of the track. As a result, Hamlin would qualify only seventh; with the points-leader Martin Truex Jr separating him from his team-mate Kenseth. Truex has the chance to seal the regular-season championship before the playoffs in tomorrow’s race, with the #78 Furniture Row driver currently holding a sizeable points lead with three races left.
Eighth place would go the way of the 2015 Bristol Night Race winner Joey Logano; who will be hoping to become the eighth different winner to win from the eighth place starting position in Bristol’s history. Clint Bowyer will start from ninth, with the driver of the #14 vying to go one better than his finishing position at Bristol in the Spring race after he took second place.
Ryan Blaney and Jamie McMurray will start from tenth and eleventh place respectively, with the final position in the top twelve shootout having gone to Daniel Suarez in the third Joe Gibbs Racing car. Like his aforementioned team-mates, Hamlin and Kenseth, Suarez showed decent pace early on in qualifying, but he failed to replicate his speed in the final session.
Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr just missed out on making it through to the final session of qualifying, with both of the previous 2017 race winners taking thirteenth and fourteenth on the grid. Chris Buescher capped off a great day, which saw his team JTG Daugherty Racing announce a multi-year extension on his contract, with a strong fifteenth place qualification in the #37 Chevrolet.
Further back, row nine of the grid belongs to two of the surprise eliminations from the second round. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch will line up alongside each other after both failed to lay down a lap fast enough to see them through to the final session. Busch seemed to struggle with similar issues that Hamlin experienced in his final run, with Kyle unable to keep his #18 M&M’s Camry down on the inside of the high banks.
Jimmie Johnson was another high-profile scalp from the second session as his #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet continues to run firmly in the mid-pack. Stewart-Haas Racing team-mates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick had a worse session though, with both being eliminated in the first session of qualifying. The pair qualified twenty-fifth and twenty-ninth respectively; with Dale Earnhardt Jr starting his final race at Bristol Motor Speedway just further back in thirty-first.
So Erik Jones will lead the field to the green flag in tomorrow night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bristol Night Race. With just three races remaining until the championship playoffs begin, could the rookie become the latest surprise winner this season by taking victory in the #77? Or perhaps will another driver punch their ticket to the championship sixteen? Tune in to find out tomorrow night.
2017 NASCAR Cup Series – Bristol Night Race – Qualifying Top Twelve
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