Kenseth Captures Auto Club Pole
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on March 21, 2014 | 8:39 P.M. EST
Kenseth won his 12th career pole. (Photo: Getty Images)
FONTANA, Calif. - NASCAR’s new qualifying format tests drivers and teams in ways they hadn’t been.
Instead of being good for one lap, drivers must be good multiple laps. Teams also have to predict how the car will change through the various rounds.
Make the right adjustments and run the proper lap and a driver can win the pole. Don’t make the correct adjustment or miss the line on the lap and a driver will watch someone else celebrate the pole.
Friday, Matt Kenseth scored his 12th career NASCAR Sprint Cup pole with Brad Keselowski earning his fourth consecutive front-row starting spot.
Others, though, just missed at Auto Club Speedway.
Kevin Harvick, advancing to the final round for the first time, said he was off on his line. He’ll start fourth. Jeff Gordon, who was fastest in the second of three rounds, said the car’s handling was tighter than anticipated. Gordon will start sixth.
Kenseth credited crew chief Jason Ratcliff for making “good adjustments through the round and making it how we needed it for the last one.
“They gave me the car and really all I did was not mess it up.’’
Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe had been nearly perfect in qualifying. Since the new format debuted at Phoenix International Raceway, Keselowski has started no worse than second.
It hasn’t been that easy, Keselowski says.
“Every track is different,’’ he said. “The first two or three weeks we saw the cars get faster. I think this is probably the first qualifying effort where the cars have gone slower in the last round with the tire fall off playing a factor in that. So, each week is different as far as what it is going to take to make it through all three rounds.
“I think that is part of the interest and the challenge for us as teams and drivers. I would expect next weekend to be even more different with it being our first flat short track at Martinsville where the tires will really fall off. I think each weekend is going to have its own challenges and each track will have its own challenges with tire and time of qualifying. There are infinite amount of variables and teams that can dial that in the best are the ones that will be up front. So far we have been able to do that which I think is a strong statement for our team.”
Jimmie Johnson starts third with Harvick and Clint Bowyer completing the top five.
Harvick was the fastest in the opening round when the top 24 advanced. He was eighth quick in the second round before placing fourth in the final round.
Harvick said he “overdrove” the car in Turns 1 and 2 in the second round and “underdrove” it in those turns in the final round.
The challenge with the new format, Harvick says, is “just hitting your lap time after time. It’s a fine line.’’
Gordon said his car was “absolutely perfect” in the second. The final round, not so much.
“The challenge is that you’re having to keep the same set of tires on the car and guess which direction it is going to go,’’ Gordon said. “For us we probably needed to free it up a little bit more for that last run. It tightened up more than I thought was going to.’’