Dale Earnhardt Jr will start on pole position for this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The driver of the #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver, who is making his final start at Talladega this weekend before his retirement at the end of the season, topped both sessions of single-car qualifying en-route to take his sixteenth NASCAR Cup Series pole position and his first at the 2.66-mile Superspeedway.
As always in Alabama, and many other of the tracks that the Cup Series visits, there was no question as to who the fans were rooting for. In round one, the crowd applauded and cheered when Junior went to the top of the standings. When he started his pole-run in the second session, it was a similar reception. When he crossed the line to set a pole-position time of 50.256-seconds, the crowd roared. Junior said after qualifying that the crowd’s reaction gave him “goosebumps”. Both he and the crowd will be hoping that he can emulate his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr, by winning at Talladega in his final start at the venue.
Dale Jr led a Hendrick Motorsports one-two in qualifying. Once again, the fight for pole came down to Junior versus his stablemate Chase Elliott. The last few years, the battles have usually gone in Elliott’s favour, but this time, it was Junior who got the pole and Chase who had to settle for second. Just three-hundredths of a second separated the pair. Qualifying pace is all well and good, but both will be hoping to put aside recent bad luck during Superspeedway races so that either of them can have a shot at making it to victory lane tomorrow.
Joey Logano looked to be the only driver other than Elliott who could’ve potentially usurped Earnhardt Jr from the front of the grid. The #22 Team Penske Ford Fusion managed to split the Hendrick Motorsport team-mates in the first round of qualifying, but he didn’t quite have the speed to repeat the effort in round two. Instead, Logano will head the second row, along with fellow Ford driver Kurt Busch, who looks to have a decent #41 Stewart-Haas Racing Fusion beneath him this weekend.
The winner of the last Talladega race back in May, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, looks to have bought back his pace that took him to victory lane five months ago. The #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was unable to get pole position again, but he will line-up strongly in fifth place. He’ll share the third row with another former Talladega winner, the #2 Penske Ford of Brad Keselowski.
Clint Bowyer joined Earnhardt Jr, Logano and Kurt Busch in being a non-playoff contender who made it to the top twelve shoot-out. It was a solid run for the #14 Stewart-Haas driver, who will be hoping to navigate through the inevitable chaos in tomorrow’s race to score an unlikely victory.
Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne didn’t quite have the pace of their team-mates to contend for the pole. They will line-up eighth and eleventh respectively, with Ryan Blaney and Trevor Bayne in between them in positions nine and ten. Kyle Larson was the last driver to make it into the top twelve but didn’t really have the pace in his #42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to do any better than the twelfth position.
Danica Patrick and Daniel Suarez just missed out on the top twelve in positions thirteen and fourteen respectively. The pair were just ahead of three of the six playoff contenders who failed to make it out of round one; Denny Hamlin in fifteenth, Kyle Busch in sixteenth and Jamie McMurray in seventeenth.
The remaining three playoff drivers will start even further in the mid-pack, with Matt Kenseth in nineteenth, championship-leader Martin Truex Jr in twenty-first and Kevin Harvick in twenty-second. All of these drivers, except for Truex Jr who is safely through to the next round after his win a week ago at Charlotte, will need to avoid the carnage of pack racing to head toward the front if they want to keep themselves in the hunt for the championship.
One hundred and eighty-eight laps await the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers in tomorrow’s Alabama 500. With only Truex Jr safely through to the next round of the playoffs, the remaining eleven drivers will be hoping to stay out of trouble or get to victory lane to try and advance through to the round of eight after next week’s race in Kansas.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Alabama 500 – Qualifying top twelve:
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