For the second week in row, the same two cars will lead the field to the green for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup race Sunday. Carl Edwards won the pole for the Crown Royal 400 Saturday with Joey Logano securing the second place starting spot. Edwards won the pole last week at New Hampshire, Logano started second.
The biggest drama Saturday came from hometown hero Tony Stewart. Stewart, who has been struggling all season long, won the first of two rounds of qualifying to the roars of approval from the crowd. He went out last in the final round and came up just short of winning the pole, but will still have a decent starting spot, fourth on Sunday.
“Tony (Stewart) had me nervous – he was so fast in that first round,” Edwards said. “Our guys did awesome. Yesterday they worked so hard – everybody in the garage worked hard changing engines. I think this race is going to be hard to pass so it’s a huge thing to start up front.”
Jeff Gordon in his final Brickyard qualifying session wasn’t able to advance out of the first round. He will start 19th Sunday.
“I feel like I underestimated the grip.,” Gordon said. “I had a little wiggle out of three coming to the green and that concerned me slightly. The grip was there in Turn 4, and I was aggressive into Turn 1, but not aggressive enough. That’s what disappointing; it wasn’t a balance issue or a speed issue. I didn’t get enough speed through (Turn) 1.”
NASCAR used the superspeedway qualifying format Saturday with two rounds of qualifying and drivers getting one timed lap. The order in the first round was determined by Friday’s practice speeds, the order for the second round was set from slowest to fastest speeds in the first round.
Reed Sorenson was the first out in the first round, but Landon Cassill was out 11th and shot to the top of the board with a lap of 49.467, 181.939 mph. Trevor Bayne followed two cars later and went second with a lap of 180.469; Justin Allgaier went to the top of the chart just after Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr. soon stole the top spot with a lap of 182.482.
As the sun began to shine, Logano turned the fastest lap of the weekend so far when he went out 20th with a lap of 48.830, 184.313. Paul Menard went to second a lap later. Edwards went out 29th and was able to grab second, Kyle Busch went out a lap later and went to third. Jamie McMurray went to second when he went out 32nd.
Stewart went out 36th and put down the fastest lap of the first session 48.505, 185.548. Kyle Larson went out next and went to second, missing the top spot by .04 of a second. Jeff Gordon went out two cars later and missed advancing to second round running 14th. Brad Keselowski scrapped the wall between turns 1 and 2 and had a lap of 26th best.
Denny Hamlin was the last out with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the bubble to advance. Hamlin who was among the fastest during Friday’s practice wasn’t able to break into the top 12, running 17th.
Stewart advanced, as did Larson, Johnson, Logano, McMurray, Kevin Harvick, David Ragan, Edwards, Kyle Busch Menard and Earnhardt.
After the top 12 were inverted, Earnhardt Jr. was the first to go out in the second round. Earnhardt Jr. led the top spot until Bowyer came out fourth and grabbed the top. Edwards was out next and took P1 with a lap of 49.056, 183.464 mph. Ragan went to second a lap later. Harvick was out next and was third. Logano took second when he went out ninth. Larson went out 11th and went to the 4th spot. Stewart went out last and came up just short going fourth fastest.
“It’s a moral victory if nothing else, for us and the team,” Stewart said. “It’s been a rough season so far, so this is a great way to come to your home track and I wish this was the second round, not the first round. But at least we’re locked into the second round and that’s the main thing right now.”
Edwards celebrated his 15th career pole and his best start at Indy, his previous best being second in 2012. It was also Toyota’s first pole at Indy.
“Being new to the Toyota camp and being just amazed, almost shocked at how much involvement Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) have in the day-to-day operations of JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing),” Edwards said. “They build the engines, they troubleshoot all the engines, they contribute in really productive ways to basically just going fast. That’s what Toyota does, they race because they want to and they have a good time doing it and want to win. To be able to win here would be huge. Toyota hasn’t won one (here) yet, so we’d like to do that. I’m telling you, Denny (Hamlin) is fast, Kyle (Busch) is fast, Matt (Kenseth) is fast – our car is really fast – it definitely could happen. Regardless of how this race turns out, as a group we’ve been working really good together and I’m hoping it continues to build.”
Ragan will start third, with Larson fifth behind Stewart. Harvick, Bowyer, Earnhardt, Kyle Busch and McMurray round out the top 10. The full lineup can be found here, the full qualifying results here.
Chase Elliott needing to make the race on speed did so and will start 28th. Ryan Newman lost his right side window during his run had his time disallowed and will start 43rd. Josh Wise, Jeb Burton and Reed Sorenson failed to qualify. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Crown Royal presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard gets the green flag just after 3:30 p.m. ET with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.
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