TALLADEGA, Ala.—The Hendrick Motorsports brigade will lead the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup field to green at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday—the first time since 2011 that the organization has swept the first two rows.
Chase Elliott, who won here in the spring, topped the speed chart for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 with a lap of 192.707 mph (49.692-seconds) for his second pole at the 2.66-mile track and the eighth Cup pole of his career.
“We’ve done a great job, I feel like, in the time I’ve been there and just continue to put emphasis on the speedway and on things that take time that might not be worth a whole lot, but make you go faster on qualifying day,” Elliott said. “Some of the small stuff may or may not help you when it comes to being in the draft. I like to think it does. I think a lot of the small things tend to add up and hope that if you have just a little bit of an advantage somewhere, that might help you at some point. I’d rather have it than not.
“And, luckily, our team is the type of team that continues to put emphasis on these places and doesn’t overlook them. And I think there’s something to be said for that, especially after last week and coming off a tough day and a failure and to come back here and to still put the effort in the areas that need to be done and didn’t just overlook this week, I think was important. And so, I’m proud of that.”
Alex Bowman lines up second followed by William Byron and Jimmie Johnson. Six Fords—Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano—rounded out the top 10.
The top Toyota to qualify was Erik Jones in 11th. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch wasn’t optimistic when it comes to a Camry’s chances of winning on Sunday.
“Just try to get what you can get out of what you got,” Busch said. “We’re not as fast as some of the other guys.
“They definitely outnumber us – I don’t think our four guys will be able to team up strong enough with the speed that we have in our cars to out-do, even if it was just four Hendrick cars or four SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing) cars, they’re way faster.”
And Busch won’t have Denny Hamlin to rely on early on in the race. The No. 11 Toyota’s engine failed before he could make a qualifying lap.
“We were 15 seconds from finishing dead last in this race, so I am very, very fortunate that it happened right there at the end of the lap,” Hamlin said. “It was fortunate and unfortunate, but way more fortunate there than it was unfortunate. It broke down the backstretch and I didn’t want to oil the track all the way down, so I just stopped the lap.
“Obviously, we’re going to be starting in last, but we’ll get through there and be fine by the time the race gets going. We’ll get this FedEx Camry hopefully up front by the end of the race.”
Although Paul Menard qualified the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford on Saturday and plans to start the race, the driver wasn’t sure whether he would go the distance in the race due to an existing issue with his neck. Former Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion Matt Crafton will be waiting on the sidelines should Menard need a substitute on Sunday.
“My neck has some disc issues and things that if I were to get upside-down it would be pretty bad,” Menard said. “Normal hits aren’t bad. It’s upside-down things that are bad.
“I’m getting old. It’s all part of it. It’s all part of what you sign up for when you’re born, I guess.”
NOTE: Led by Byron, the Hendrick Motorsports drivers posted the four fastest times in qualifying for the Daytona 500 this year, but only Byron and Bowman were locked into the front row. The rest of the starting positions were determined by the 150-mile Duel qualifying races.