Almirola beats Stenhouse for Atlanta Cup pole
Aric Almirola denied his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer the top prize Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Bowyer was the fastest in the lone practice session Friday, then topped the first two rounds of knockout qualifying before Almirola raced to the top of the leaderboard in the final round.
Almirola’s average lap speed of 181.472 mph ended up the fastest lap of the day and he won the pole for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta.
The pole is the second of Almirola’s career and first of the new season.
“It’s cool to be the first guy to put the Ford Mustang on the pole,” Almirola said. “We’re running wide-open now, so it’s getting more and more about the car now in qualifying.
“It’s the engineers and all the guys who work on the cars. It’s about details. As the rules get tighter and tighter, it’s really about all the little things, all the little details.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ended up second (180.428 mph) and Bowyer was third (180.410 mph). Denny Hamlin will start fourth and Daniel Suarez fifth.
Rounding out the Top 12 starters are Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson and Michael McDowell.
At start of the final round, Bowyer and Dillon ended up drag racing down pit road to be the first out on the track. Neither of them ended up benefiting from the move.
Bowyer and his SHR teammates continued their dominance in the second round.
Bowyer again topped the session with an average lap speed of 180.504 mph, followed by Saurez (180.316 mph) and Almirola (180.164 mph). McDowell and Larson completed the top-five.
Also advancing to the final round were Stenhouse, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Truex and Johnson.
Among those who failed to advance was last year’s race winner, Kevin Harvick – the only SHR car not to make it to the final round.
“It’s been a rough day. We’ve changed everything on the car and nothing has fixed it,” Harvick said of a steering problem that plagued him both in practice and in qualifying.
Also not advancing were Ryan Newman, Erik Jones, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Matt DiBenedetto.
Bowyer, who was fastest in Friday’s lone practice session, led the way in the first 10-minute knockout qualifying session.
Bowyer’s average lap speed of (180.733 mph) topped his SHR teammate Almirola (179.778 mph). Newman ended up third (179.737 mph). Larson was fourth and Austin Dillon completed the top-five.
Rounding out the Top 12 were Jones, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, McDowell, Johnson, Kyle Busch, William Byron and Corey LaJoie.
Among those who failed to advance to Round 2 were Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Daniel Hemric, Ryan Preece and Chris Buescher.
“Just out there running full throttle and just wasn’t fast enough,” Blaney said.
The No. 36 Ford of Matt Tifft and No. 52 Chevrolet of B.J. McLeod both failed pre-qualifying inspection twice and both teams had their car chief ejected for the remainder of the weekend. Each team will also lose 15 minutes of practice on Saturday.
|2||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||30.727||0.177||180.428|
|9||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||30.852||0.302||179.697|
|29||43||Darrell Wallace Jr.||Chevrolet||31.196||0.646||177.715|
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