Full qualifying times
When it comes to the new-look NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying elimination format, Team Penske clearly has an early edge that the other teams simply aren't able to match right now. Just as they had done last week at Phoenix, this time around in Las Vegas the team saw their drivers once again lock out the front row of the grid - the only difference being that this time it was Joey Logano claiming pole and Brad Keselowski as his wingman.
"It was obviously good," agree Logano. "To have a Penske front row the last two weekends at two completely different race tracks just goes to show how hard these guys have been working. When you work hard those results come."
"We've been very fortunate," agreed Keselowski. "The cars are fast and I don't think it's much more difficult than that. When you've got fast cars it makes your life a lot easier and Team Penske has done a great job of finding the speed in qualifying trim."
Logano's final pole time on the 1.5-mile high-banked Las Vegas Motor Speedway was 27.939s (193.278mph), a new track record for LVMS. It was the first time so far that qualifying had taken the three-round elimination format proscribed for longer tracks - a 25 minute round for all drivers, whittled down to a ten minute second round for the top 24 and finally a five-minute top 12 pole shootout. By comparison, last week's session at the shorter one-mile Phoenix International Raceway had been only a two-stage affair, the all-cars round cutting straight down to the top 12.
"This was this first time with three segments so that changes it up quite a bit," agreed Logano, who has now clinched his eighth pole in 186 Cup starts. "We got blocked on the race track a little bit and didn't get our first run in very well. We went back out and was only 18th after the first segment and then you kind of get to reset - take a deep breath, adjust on your race car, cool it off the best you can and we were able to go out there and run again and win the last two segments."
"Obviously, we didn't have qualifying quite figured out the first run out there because if we did we would have had a clean lap in, so we're all still learning that," he added. "We're learning what the best strategy is of when to go, when to cool your motor off, when to do all this stuff. We have an idea of what we want to do and we study as much as we can, but everytime we do this we've learned something that we may want to do different the next time."
Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon took an early lead in the first qualifying round and went on to clinch fourth place on the grid behind Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer and just ahead of reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing), Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports) rounded out the remainder of the front four rows.
The first round of qualifying had eventually been paced by MWR's Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne; Kahne subsequently just missed out on making it through to the top 12 shoot-out, but Vickers kept his momentum going to claim ninth on the grid ahead of RCR's Ruan Newman, Roush's Carl Edwards and Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. Kahne meanwhile will start from 13th place immediately ahead of his remaining Hendrick team mates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.
The Stewart-Haas Racing squad narrowly made it through intact to round 2 but was unable to proceed any further than that on Friday afternoon. They had to settle instead for 16th place on the grid for Kevin Harvick and 22nd through 24th for Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart respectively. Also failing to make it into the final round was Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch who will start from 20th, although at least the Vegas native did better than his JGR team mates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth who were both eliminated at the end of round 1 meaning they line up in 27th and 29th place for the start of Sunday's race.
RPM's Marcos Ambrose will start from the back after his pace was hampered by a problem with the #9: "I couldn't even put a lap together because I had a hole in the radiator. I was throwing water down on my tyres and was just trying to get out of the way," he confirmed afterwards. "We can't open the hood until we finish the session, so we'll find out [what caused it.]"
In the process, Ambrose was nearly involved in a first round collision with fellow Ford runner Logano who was also running low on the apron at the time in preparation for another qualifying run: "I'm not sure if the #22 was trying to cool his engine down or what was going on, but I was just trying to get off the race track," said Ambrose. I'm sorry for the #22."
"It's so hard to get up to speed here," Logano explained. "Now that we have to stay on the apron until turn two it's hard to be up to speed by the time you get to the start-finish line, so you're wide-open through three and four and it's hard to get up to speed.
"What a few cars were doing, and the #48 was doing a lot in practice, is you'd go out and shut your motor off, coast by the start-finish line the first time, and then fire it up into one – run through one and two to build up speed and then you have all the speed you need by the time you come off of four. That's what we were doing.
"I don't think the #9 knew exactly what we were doing, so when he pulled out in front of us then we were behind him, which we still had a big enough hole to get some decent air on the car," he continued. "And then he got into one and I think he got tight and aborted his run. I don't think he knew how close I was behind him and he started coming across the race track when I was wide-open.
"I may have touched him, it was really close," Logano admitted. "I was on the binders as hard as I could to make sure I didn't hit him, but it gets crazy out there. You've got that going on and then you've got cars shut off going 60 miles an hour next to a car going 205. It's a big speed difference - things come up really quick."
The Cup cars will get two more practice sessions on Saturday before Sunday's KOBALT 400 race. In the meantime the Nationwide Series field will first qualify for and then contest the Boyd Gaming 300 on Saturday afternoon; there is no Camping World Truck Series event this weekend in Vegas.
Full qualifying times