By Zack Albert/ NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Larson stormed to the Coors Light Pole Award on Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, taming the unique qualifying format to earn the No. 1 starting spot for Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Larson hurried the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet to a speed of 143.839 mph in the three-lap format, which requires teams to make a four-tire pit stop during their run. Despite a slight slip by his rear tire changer, Larson’s team avoided the pitfalls that snagged the other four competitors who advanced to the final round of qualifying.
Kyle Busch was second-fastest in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota with a speed of 143.826 mph, just one-hundredth slower than Larson’s time. Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch completed the top five.
Larson led 18 laps in last year’s All-Star event, relinquishing the top spot to eventual winner Joey Logano with two laps remaining. With a prime No. 1 starting position this year, Larson said he hoped to capitalize by winning one of three opening segments to lock his name into the final 10-lap, 10-car dash.
“Starting up front is a big deal,” Larson said. “If we can get out there and win that first stage I know we’re going to be in the top 10, and then build on our average finish. I’m very excited for (Saturday). And I’m definitely excited about getting the pole because I wasn’t expecting to qualify this good. To get the pole is pretty neat.”
The one-of-a-kind qualifying procedures — which abandon the pit-road speed limit for one night only — tripped up a handful of drivers. In the final round, Johnson overshot his pit stall and incurred a five-second penalty when his crew went over the wall too soon. Kurt Busch’s crew left two lug nuts loose, causing race officials to dock him five seconds for each.
In the first session, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth overshot their pit stalls trying to hustle in for service, costing them precious time as their teams backed their cars into position. Logano’s drastic overshoot kept Larson’s place on the bubble; the series points leader was the last of the five drivers who advanced to the final knockout round.
The crews for Martin Truex Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. each left one lug nut unsecured, incurring five-second penalties that kept them from advancing to the final qualifying round. Truex will start 14th with Stenhouse 16th on Saturday night.
Ryan Newman recovered from a long, smoky sideways slide through Turns 3 and 4 just before his pit entry. He avoided contact, but his Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet was the second slowest of the 16 drivers in the opening round.
“Hoping next year maybe they’ll award style points,” Newman told FOX Sports after making his stellar save. He’ll start 15th in Saturday night’s invitational.
Four more drivers will be added Saturday to round out the 20-car field for Saturday night’s main event. Three drivers will transfer as segment winners from the 50-lap Monster Energy Open preliminary race. One more will be added as the winner of fan voting.