Two-tenths of a second was all Matt Kenseth needed to take his first pole of the season and he will lead off the Auto Club 400 on Sunday afternoon from Fontana, Calif.
The Joe Gibbs Racing headliner turned a 187.315 mph lap in the knockout stage on Friday, besting Brad Keselowski’s 187.105 mph.
Last season Kenseth was tied for second in NASCAR with three pole victories, and it appears he’s adapted well to the new knockout round. Kenseth also guns for his first win of the season after posting two top 10 finishes in four starts.
The early points leader thanks to his three top five finishes and a stellar victory in Las Vegas, Keselowski will be just ahead of Jimmie Johnson and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick.
Clint Bowyer rounds out the first five spots and looks to improve on his results so far this season. In four starts he’s finished no higher than 13th in Phoenix, and Bowyer’s led only six laps.
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Thus far the knockout stage has proven both exciting and even fun for Spring Cup drivers.
"This knockout format has been really good for my team," Keselowski said to the AP. "I've had a lot of fun with it. I don't feel like a very good qualifier. We've got a lot of great momentum going, and we've just got to keep it going."
Last year’s winner in California Kyle Busch posted a 185.314 mph lap and will start in the 14th position, just ahead of Daytona victor Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It was the first time the knockout stage was run at a two-mile oval track like the Auto Club Speedway, and it could be the last unless NASCAR calls the qualifying experiment a success. NASCAR only comes thru Fontana once a season, unlike most other tracks.
TV Channel: FOX
Start Time: Sunday, 3 p.m. EST
12.Martin Truex Jr.
15.Dale Earnhardt Jr.
22.Ricky Stenhouse Jr.