Friday’s three rounds of qualifying for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway wasn’t just a matter of who was fast — but also who failed to make a qualifying run.
Nine drivers failed to get through pre-qualifying inspection and were not allowed to make an attempt, meaning that they’ll start at the back of the field for Sunday’s race.
Let’s break down what happened:
* First, Kevin Harvick swept all three rounds and earned the pole with a speed of 198.405 mph. It was Harvick’s first career Cup pole at Texas, his second pole of the season (also led the field at Atlanta) and the 19th of his NASCAR Cup career.
“It’s been a stressful day,” Harvick said afterwards. “Coming in and breaking in a new race track and going out there running as fast as we had to run for qualifying. I have to say thank you to the Xfinity guys for letting me run that car this weekend because I really think the reps allowed us learn some things that I was able to apply here.”
* On the outside of the front row is another Ford driver, Ryan Blaney, at 198.020 mph, his second front row start of the season. In fact, the first five drivers that will start Sunday’s race will be behind the wheel of a Ford.
Clint Bowyer qualified third (198.020), followed by Joey Logano (197.759), Brad Keselowski (197.563), Jamie McMurray (196.492), Martin Truex Jr. (196.421), Matt Kenseth (196.299), Ryan Newman (195.525), Kurt Busch (195.002), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (194.517) and Trevor Bayne (192.082).
* The first of three qualifying rounds began with pit road looking almost like a ghost town. Only 16 cars had passed inspection when the session began, leaving 24 cars still waiting to take their turn and pass or fail.
Busch suffered minor damage during a wreck in the practice session earlier in the day, but his team was able to repair it rather than go to a backup car.
But all that effort went for naught when Busch failed to get through the full inspection line in time.
As it turned out, Busch wound up being one of nine drivers that failed to make a qualifying run.
All of those drivers will start at the back of the field in Sunday’s race: points leader Kyle Larson (32nd), followed by Chase Elliott (33rd), Kyle Busch (34th), Kasey Kahne (35th), Erik Jones (36th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (37th), Chris Buescher (38th), Timmy Hill (39th) and Derrike Cope (40th).
* During the opening qualifying session, Jimmie Johnson had just laid down what would be the ninth-fastest effort and then spun out. He did not hit anything and while his car sustained no damage, the same thing couldn’t be said about his tires.
Because Johnson’s tires have to be replaced, he would not advance past the first round and will start 24th (see graphic below from the NASCAR Rule Book).
“When I dumped out of the throttle, it pitched the car sideways and I started chasing it going into the turn,” Johnson told Fox Sports 1. “I thought I had it saved, but then I got in all those marbles and kept getting closer and closer to the wall and spun.
“We have three flat-spotted tires and unfortunately, we won’t be able to continue on.”
* Three of Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates will start even further back in the pack: Chase Elliott will start 33rd, Kasey Kahne 35th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 37th.
“I ain’t too worried about it, this race is pretty long,” Earnhardt told Fox Sports 1. “The pit selection bothers you a little bit. … I don’t know what was wrong with our car going through tech, but if you don’t make it, you don’t get out there and I like that, I like the rules being the same for everybody.”
* Because 40 cars are entered, all drivers qualified for Sunday’s race. This marks the first time since Daytona that a NASCAR Cup race has had a full 40-car field this season.