More rain at Kentucky Speedway meant that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams enjoyed only 50 minutes of on-track practice time at the 1.5-mile intermediate track on Friday, and that qualifying ended up being entirely washed out for the second weekend in a row.
Just as it had been last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, the starting grid for this week's Quaker State 400 will now be set according to times set by the cars in the only prior practice session and by existing owner points.
That puts Ganassi's Kyle Larson on pole position for Saturday evening's race, with Penske's Brad Keselowski starting alongside him on the front row. The pole does not count as such in the official records, however.
CLICK: Full starting grid and Friday practice times from Kentucky Speedway
Larson had earlier recorded a best time of 29.583s (182.537mph) in the curtailed Friday afternoon practice before the rain moved in, leaving him 0.146s ahead of Keselowski.
"I was glad we got a little bit of track time there," said Larson. "We were quick off the truck, which I was really proud of my team for just because we haven't had any laps on this new package, unlike some of the other teams that have gotten to do some testing. So, I was happy with that.
"We were quick in race trim off the truck, and then we went to mock qualifying trim and we were really fast," he continued. "I was able to lay down a really fast lap. And then went back to race trim, and felt good there, too. So, yeah, I'm happy with how the day has been."
"I felt like we had a shot at the pole in both races and didn't get to qualify," said Keselowski for his part. "So I'm a little bummed about that. But I'm happy with the speed that we've shown so far."
Hendrick Motorsport's Jeff Gordon will start from third place for his final outing at the speedway before he retires at the end of the current season. He will be alongside Keselowski's Penske team mate Joey Logano for the green flag, with Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. alongside Gordon's team mate and fellow multi-time former Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in sixth.
Jamie McMurray (Ganassi), and Joe Gibbs Racing pair Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch take the next spots with last week's race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top ten in the third Hendrick car.
Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon will start from 11th place and will be hoping for a less wild ride than the one he enjoyed just five days ago at Daytona, where he ended the race in a horrific airborne accident that put him into the catchfence. There had been echoes of that scary moment in Thursday's Truck Series race at Kentucky when Ben Kennedy was also put into the fence near the end of the event. The fencing has since been repaired overnight, with officials saying that it took some three hours to complete the work.
"I feel pretty comfortable," said Dillon when asked if he had any qualms stepping back into the car after last week's accident. "I think when you take a crash like that and you're as healthy as I feel, you feel pretty confident in the safety equipment that you have around you that you're ready to go, and run fast.
"I've been pretty sore," he admitted. "Have done a few different things to try and recover, and just taking it easy. The last day was nice, actually, to kind of get the rain to come through and give me another day off of my tailbone. Other than that, I feel good."
Richard Petty Motorsports Aric Almirola will line up in 12th place for tomorrow's race followed by Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Roush Fenway pair Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne on row nine, and Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards making up the final places in the top twenty.
Wood Brothers' Ryan Blaney, Leavine Family Racing's Michael McDowell and Team XTREME Racing's Travis Kvapil will all go home early after not being able to race their way onto the 43-car based on speed
"I feel bad for the teams that aren't going to get a shot to qualify," said Larson, who was already looking forward to tomorrow's race knowing that he was going to start with some big advantages as a result of the qualifying washout. "You get the number one pit stall," he pointed out. "And you're starting off the race in clean air. So, just as long as you can maintain that track position, you should have a good race."
The lack of track time this weekend is of particular concern to the Sprint Cup teams because it's the first outing for a brand new low downforce specification being introduced to help the racing. The new aerodynamic package calls for teams to use a 3.5-inch spoiler, instead of a 6-inch one. It also features a radiator pan reduction from 38 inches to 25 inches, while the splitter will have 1.75 inches less overhang than was previously used in the first 17 races this season.
As well as Kentucky, NASCAR has mandated new track-specific rules packages for four upcoming races at Indianapolis, Michigan, Darlington and Richmond.
“I think all of this shows that we remain committed to putting the best racing on in the world.” NASCAR Executive President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell said on Tuesday.
"And each of these, including Kentucky this weekend, I think shows everybody that we've got several components that make up a rules package each week, and they can certainly be adjusted, and we will do that if we can do something that we believe will improve the racing for the fans at each track."
Teams were meant to have two full days of testing at Kentucky to get used to the new rules package on Wednesday and Thursday, but both days ended up being completely washed out by the rain and by lingering problems drying the track, with even the Air Titans unable to do anything about 'weepers' whereby water seeps back out onto the track through seams in the asphalt surfacing.
With an improved forecast for the rest of the weekend, NASCAR will now try and schedule additional practice time before the green flag for the race on Saturday evening at 7.45pm.
"It's nice that we'll get some more practice in here in a little bit once the track dries up; and try and learn this new package even more," said Larson. "It will be nice if we can get another hour and a half, or so, whenever we do get back out on the track.
"Maybe we'll be able to get around some more cars the next time we get out there because I haven't really been close to anybody out there, so I don't know how it will handle in dirty air or anything like that," he pointed out. "I don't really know if anybody has been around cars in traffic yet.
"We'll just have to wait and see. I think the whole idea behind the new aero package was to try and make the racing better. So, hopefully they've made the right changes and we'll be better tomorrow."
"The cars right now aren't handling necessarily the way they're going to handle in race conditions," agreed Keselowski, pointing out that the rain ha prevented the usual buil-up of Goodyear rubber on the racing line. "The more time we get the better to try and get as close as we can to race conditions as the track continues to take rubber but then the rain continues to wash it off, so it's been this see-saw battle, which I'm sure you guys are all aware of because you're going through the same thing. But the more track time you can get, the greater understanding you can have of what it's going to take come tomorrow."
Keselowski is also competing in Friday night's Xfinity Series race, for which he will start from the second row after qualifying for this race was also rained out. Pole went to JGL Racing's JJ Yeley with RCR's Ty Dillon lining up in second place.
See full starting grid and Friday practice times from Kentucky Speedway