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Wednesday November 22nd, 2017 9:49AM

Kenseth steps towards playoffs with Richmond pole run

By Reid Spencer-NASCAR Wire Service
  Contact Editor

RICHMOND, Va. – In need of a playoff spot next week and a place to drive next year, Matt Kenseth stormed to the pole position for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.

Kenseth covered the .75-mile distance in 22.055 seconds (122.421 mph) in the final round of Friday’s knockout qualifying session to edge Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin (122.277 mph) for the top starting spot by .026 seconds.

The Coors Light Pole Award was Kenseth’s second of the season – both coming at Richmond – his third at the “D”-shaped short track and 20th of his career.

Winless in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series so far this season, Kenseth is one of three drivers who can secure a berth in the postseason on points.

Kenseth will exit his ride at JGR at the end of the season and thus far has not announced plans for next year. But Friday’s pole run was an emphatic statement that the 45-year-old is still quick.

“The third round, it didn’t feel as good, but luckily it was fast enough,” said Kenseth, who is driving the No. 20 Hurricane Harvey Relief Toyota in the final regular-season race. “We missed the balance a little bit there, but it was fast enough to get the pole…

“I’m hoping for the best. I thought we were at our best this morning (in practice) when the track was the coolest and the cleanest. As it got hotter, we ran worse. So I guess that gives me hope that we’ll have speed tomorrow night.”

Hamlin’s final lap produced a better result than the driver expected when he ran it.

“I thought it would be a little worse than it ended up,” said Hamlin, last week’s winner at Darlington raceway. “I didn’t drive the laps as good as I probably could have and probably gotten the pole. Either way, a good run. We improved every round.

“And, obviously, we’re hoping for long green-flag runs. That’s typically where I excel at this race track. All in all, a pretty good day.”

Kurt Busch qualified third, followed by Kyle Larson, Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. All three drivers, including Kenseth, who can make the playoff of points advanced to the final round on Friday. Chase Elliott will start ninth and Jamie McMurray 11th.

Two drivers who must win on Saturday to claim a playoff spot also cracked the top 12. Despite missing the first hour of Friday’s final practice because of pre-qualifying and pre-race inspection failures last week at Darlington, Erik Jones qualified 10th.

Joey Logano, whose April 30 win at Richmond was encumbered by penalty, grabbed the 12th spot on the grid.

“We just had too much fall-off,” said Logano, who was third fastest in the first round. “The first run was almost the fastest car, within a couple hundredths (of a second), and then the next run we were a tenth-and-a-half off, and then next run three-tenths off.

“Too much fall off from run to run. I don’t know that I completely understand why, but that’s where we will start, so it doesn’t much matter now.”

Nevertheless, Logano isn’t discounting his chances to barge into the playoff with a victory.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “I think we’re OK. Our long-run speed looked to be OK. I don’t think we are lights-out fast, but I think we’re close enough that we can certainly make it interesting on everyone.”

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualified 21st for his final start at Richmond in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

WDUN will carry live MRN Radio coverage of Saturday night's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 from Richmond Raceway beginning at 6:30 pm on 102.9 FM, AM 550 and streaming live on AccessWDUN.com.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Richmond Raceway – Richmond, VA
Federated Auto Parts 400 – Sept. 8, 2017

Friday’s Qualifying Results

1. 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota 22.055 122.421
2. 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 22.081 122.277
3. 41 Kurt Busch Ford 22.083 122.266
4. 42 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 22.130 122.006
5. 78 Martin Truex, Jr. Toyota 22.134 121.984
6. 4 Kevin Harvick Ford 22.179 121.737
7. 18 Kyle Busch Toyota 22.217 121.529
8. 17 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Ford 22.221 121.507
9. 24 Chase Elliott Chevrolet 22.227 121.474
10. 77 Erik Jones # Toyota 22.251 121.343
11. 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 22.291 121.125
12. 22 Joey Logano Ford 22.325 120.941
13. 14 Clint Bowyer Ford 22.154 121.874
14. 21 Ryan Blaney Ford 22.172 121.775
15. 2 Brad Keselowski Ford 22.181 121.726
16. 19 Daniel Suarez # Toyota 22.181 121.726
17. 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 22.209 121.572
18. 6 Trevor Bayne Ford 22.212 121.556
19. 10 Danica Patrick Ford 22.277 121.201
20. 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 22.287 121.147
21. 88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Chevrolet 22.302 121.065
22. 47 A.J. Allmendinger Chevrolet 22.352 120.795
23. 43 Aric Almirola Ford 22.424 120.407
24. 37 Chris Buescher Chevrolet 22.465 120.187
25. 32 Matt DiBenedetto Ford 22.194 121.655
26. 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 22.201 121.616
27. 31 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 22.204 121.600
28. 95 Michael McDowell Chevrolet 22.242 121.392
29. 38 David Ragan Ford 22.242 121.392
30. 34 Landon Cassill Ford 22.248 121.359
31. 3 Austin Dillon Chevrolet 22.266 121.261
32. 13 Ty Dillon # Chevrolet 22.294 121.109
33. 83 Corey LaJoie # Toyota 22.363 120.735
34. 23 Gray Gaulding # Toyota 22.466 120.182
35. 72 Cole Whitt Chevrolet 22.468 120.171
36. 55 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet 22.477 120.123
37. 33 Jeffrey Earnhardt Chevrolet 22.554 119.713
38. 15 Derrike Cope Chevrolet 22.850 118.162
39. 51 B.J. McLeod(i) Chevrolet 23.090 116.934

Did Not Qualify: None.

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