By Reid Spencer | NASCAR Wire Service
BROOKLYN, Mich. — Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota crew woke a sleeping giant just in time for qualifying for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Michigan International Speedway.
But Kenseth jokingly credited a sleepless night — brought on by worry over teammate Denny Hamlin’s lack of punctuality — for his pole-winning effort in Friday’s time trials at the two-mile track.
Getting the most out of the high-drag aerodynamic package in force at the event at Michigan, Kenseth covered the distance in 36.458 seconds (197.488 mph) to win his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at MIS and the 16th of his career.
Hamlin (196.990 mph) was second fastest, and Carl Edwards (196.276 mph) claimed the third starting spot, as Joe Gibbs Racing swept the top three positions on the grid for the 23rd Sprint Cup race of the season.
Austin Dillon (195.918 mph) qualified fourth as the top Chevrolet in the field, followed by Tony Stewart (195.477 mph) in a Chevrolet and Kyle Busch (195.450 mph) in the fourth JGR Toyota. Joey Logano, last week’s winner at Watkins Glen, qualified 10th as the only Ford driver to crack the top 12.
Based on practice speed, Edwards was a favorite to win the pole, but Kenseth, who was 10th on the speed chart in the opening practice session, closed the gap in time from qualifying.
“We were a long ways off Carl in practice, and I don’t even know what changes they made, but they changed a lot of stuff that really woke this thing up and had some speed,” Kenseth said. “I knew I got through (Turns) 1 and 2 good, but Denny put up such a fast lap, and I got into (Turn) 3, and I was bound and determined that I was going to make it wide open.
“I had the first half of the corner. It was the second half that was starting to get exciting. I got sliding up the track and bogged down a little bit. I wasn’t sure that we were going have it, but I have to say thanks to those guys (the crew). They gave me a car with a lot of speed.”
In Hamlin’s view, Busch’s return from an injury has achieved a critical mass of four talented, veteran drivers at JGR who can benefit from each other’s expertise.
“When you have drivers that you can feed off of, like the three teammates that I have, it makes a difference, and so that’s where you’re seeing the results,” Hamlin said.
That didn’t prevent the driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry from throwing a barb toward the 43-year-old teammate who beat him for the pole.
“Matt was probably too old to remember to lift there,” Hamlin said of Kenseth’s qualifying run.
Kenseth provided a different perspective.
“I could say it’s because I didn’t get enough sleep,” Kenseth said. “I flew up with Denny today, and he likes to come to everything at the last minute. I didn’t sleep last night thinking that we weren’t going to make it up here, so it’s really just for lack of sleep. I get to credit Denny for the pole.”
Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Logano completed the top 10. Reed Sorenson failed to make the 43-car field.
Complete Starting Lineup: