Matt Kenseth is fast again.
Kenseth, who started the season struggling to get a grasp on NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying format, mastered it on Friday, winning the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Kenseth was second-fastest in Round 2 and was fastest in the final round with an average lap speed of 187.315 mph. Brad Keselowski qualified second – the only driver to qualify on the front row in each knockout sessions held this season.
“We had some really good speed and that translated to qualifying trim. The team gave me a great car,” Kenseth said. “This is probably one of the best tracks we go to as far as having different lanes, it’s very wide and very challenging. Even qualifying was different with how drastically different all of our runs were.”
The pole is Kenseth’s first of the season and 12th of his Sprint Cup Series career. Kenseth won three poles last season, which tied his career high.
Jimmie Johnson qualified third, Kevin Harvick fourth and Clint Bowyer was fifth.
“This knockout format has been really good for my team,” said Keselowski, who has qualified first, second, second and second in the four knockout sessions that have been held this season.
“Each week is different as far as what it takes to get through all the rounds. Each weekend has its own challenges. The teams that can dial it in the best will be up front.”
Johnson’s chance at a victory or good finish in last weekend’s race at Bristol, Tenn., was cut short after his left-front tire shredded and came apart, putting him several laps down.
Goodyear officials said at the time the car setup contributed to the problem.
“From a team standpoint we are still very adamant that the wear on the tire was not the issue. A lot of guys had left-front wear and issues with the left-front and some stuff going on there,” Johnson said.
“We are very confident, and the tire was still intact. Just a half inch strip came unwound from the inside corner of the tire and it was some 60 feet long. We could see every wear hole on it. It wasn’t worn out.”
Truck series driver Matt Crafton substituted for Cup driver Paul Menard in practice and qualifying at Auto Club Speedway as Menard remained in North Carolina with his wife, Jen, and the couple’s newborn daughter.
Menard is expected to arrive in California in time for practice Saturday and the race on Sunday. He will have to start the race from the rear of the field for missing qualifying.
Five Cup series teams plan to take part in a two-day Goodyear tire test at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway Tuesday and Wednesday in advance of this summer’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
The drivers expected to participate are Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers.
Texas Motor Speedway has supplanted Charlotte Motor Speedway with the world’s largest high definition video board. The Texas screen is 218 feet wide and about 95 feet high and sits about 125 feet above ground level. Charlotte’s board is approximately 200-by-85-feet.