At the end of Sprint Cup Series qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway, it was Tony Stewart topping the speed charts to take the pole for the Duck Commander 500. Stewart placed himself in the top 10 in round one and third in round two before topping the charts in the final round with a lap of 27.628 seconds.
“The first run I knew I didn’t run a very good lap, and then the second run really wasn’t much different than that but we knew we had a heat cycle on the tires,” Stewart said. “This thing is fast. It was good in the first run, and in the second run it was pretty good and we were second and we ran a little bit quicker. We didn’t know what we could run this third time, but I knew what (Greg) Biffle had run. The good thing is Chad Johnson (crew chief) made a really big change there to try and make it better. Like he said, ‘I was either going to make you quick, or I was going to make you 12th.’ I’m glad he made the change. He’s got a lot of confidence and I really like that.”
It marks Stewart’s 15th career pole and his first since Atlanta in 2012 as he becomes the seventh different pole winner in seven races thus far this year.
Brad Keselowski qualified second for his fifth top 10 start of the 2014 season.
“Of course we’re disappointed,” Keselowski said. “We wanted to sit on the pole, but it wasn’t meant to be. Tony obviously put down a great lap there at the end. I didn’t see that one coming. I thought we had it, but that’s why they do it this way. It’s really exciting and I think a lot of fun to watch and, quite honestly, it’s a lot of fun to participate in this new format of qualifying. We came up short, but we still have a lot to be proud of starting on the front row. We want to make that count, so hopefully we can pull that off.”
Kevin Harvick qualified third after setting a new track record in round one with a lap of 27.234 seconds. Roush Fenway teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five.
Denny Hamlin qualified sixth, followed by Trevor Bayne, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon. Stewart-Haas Racing put three of their cars in the top 12, while Danica Patrick qualified 24th.
For the first time this year, Johnson missed the final round of qualifying as he qualified his Lowe’s Chevrolet in the 16th position. Johnson noted that they were lacking speed in qualifying trim but says they’re bad fast in race trim.
“Our car is blazing fast,” Johnson said. “Qualifying hasn’t always been my strong suit, and today it showed up here for whatever reason. We’ll get her cleaned up and get her ready for the race on Sunday. We felt like we had a very good understanding of things, and we spent a lot of time this afternoon working on old tire runs because we were so good in race trim and we just missed it. Everybody else picked up a lot more speed than we did so we will have to dig in deep and try and understand why.”
With Johnson missing the final round, Logano is the only driver who has made it to the final round each week.
Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 19th with rookie Austin Dillon in 20th. Dillon has his brother Ty on stand-by as a result of not feeling that well yesterday.
Notably, Hamlin was inside the top 12 while his fellow Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch qualified 26th and 29th respectively.
“We just missed on set-up, dragged the splitter real hard,” Kenseth said. “Honestly thought we had a shot at the pole and things seemed to changed since earlier with the rain.”
Dave Blaney would qualify for his first race of the season, while David Stremme, Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek and J.J. Yeley failed to qualify.