Matt Kenseth, winner of the 2003 and 2004 Kobalt Tools 400, earned the pole position and lowered the track record during Stratosphere Pole Day qualifying Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Kenseth’s lap of 28.589 sec. (188.88 mph) knocked Marcos Ambrose from the top spot and broke Kurt Busch’s 2010 qualifying record of 28.614 sec. It was the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion’s fifth Coors Light Pole Award of his career and first since May 2009.
“Qualifying is not my strong suit, but I knew we really had a fast car today,” said the polesitter. “I knew we had a shot at the pole. This is the most nervous I’ve been in qualifying over the past five years. Last week we had a shot at the pole and we really messed up. I didn’t want to mess up a fast car today, so I’m really happy.”
Marcos Ambrose held the pole position (28.698 sec.) until Kenseth toppled him from the coveted perch. “I’ve been second a few times in my Cup career during qualifying, so I’m the bridesmaid again. I really pleased with today, it was a great lap,” Ambrose explained. “I had a chance to make it in the sport or get kicked out pretty quick with the change I made for 2011. For Richard Petty to give me a chance like he has and for us to deliver in our third race with a good lap is great. I am so proud of my Stanley team. This is a great day for us, after we got off to a slow start, crashing at Daytona and 16th place at Phoenix.”
Carl Edwards, winner of the 2008 Las Vegas race and the most recent racer to jump from the Stratosphere Tower’s SkyJump Las Vegas, will start third.
“That lap was fast. But I couldn’t tell how fast it was while I was out there because we picked up so much,” Edwards admitted. “We saw speeds that no one could touch in practice. I didn’t really know what it was going to do.”
Ford was the dominant brand of the day, taking the top four qualifying positions – and three of those top-four Fords were fielded by Jack Roush.
Since Las Vegas is home to the Busch brothers, many eyes were on Kurt and Kyle during qualifying. “I certainly wish it was two (races) to go instead of two in,” said current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Kyle, who qualified fifth with a lap of 28.790 sec.
Kyle has done well at his hometown oval, winning the pole in 2008 and 2009 and the race in 2009. “It’s a long season so being in the points lead now is a good opportunity for us at the whole Joe Gibbs Racing Team.
“We’ve been a little behind the eight ball so far this weekend,” Kyle continued. “It’s coming along. The guys made some really good adjustments and the car drove a lot better. So far, so good.”
“We just had to let it rip in qualifying,” said Kurt. The elder Busch brother won last year’s pole, but qualified 22nd for this year’s Kobalt Tools 400. “We were really far off in practice and went back to exactly where we were here last March. It’s kind of good and it’s kind of bad. To have not done much in 12 months to help our car get through the bumps better is confusing. I lost some speed in Turns 3 and 4 with handling and it’s a little bit on the tight side.”
Mark Martin will start 10th in his GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. “Well, it wasn’t the wildest laps, but it was pretty exciting. Kudos to (crew chief) Lance McGrew and the GoDaddy.com team. We were really off and they were slinging wrenches and getting in there and doing it in practice. They made the car better every time and that was a big pickup, much better than we were in practice. We’re proud of the gains that we made and I’m proud of them and I like seeing them work and I like seeing them with such great attitudes. We’re having a little fun.”
Crowd favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled on the 1.5-mile superspeedway and will start 33rd. NASCAR veterans and former champions Bobby Labonte and Bill Elliott will start 24th and 37th, respectively.
Forty-four cars attempted to qualify for 43 starting positions. Brian Keselowski was the odd man out.