Paul Menard scored his first Cup pole in nearly 10 years Saturday, taking the top spot with a lap of 180.012 mph Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Menard’s last pole came 358 races ago at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, 2008.
“My guys did a hell of a job today,” Menard said after his qualification run. “We weren’t very good in practice. We did a mock run that was so loose that we had to abort it and never really got a true mock run. We had speed and all through those rounds we got a little too loose in round two and we adjusted for it. Round three drove like rails. It was good.”
Menard beat the former driver of the No. 21 Wood Bros. car Ryan Blaney by .022 seconds. Blaney qualified at 179.880 mph. Menard and Blaney create an all-Ford front row for Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Rookie William Byron posted a lap of 179.057 mph and will start ninth.
The sophomore Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Erik Jones (178.826) and Daniel Suarez (176.315) qualified 10th and 11th respectively.
The two drivers who have dominated the 1.5-mile tracks so far in 2018 failed to advance to the final round of qualification. Kevin Harvick (178.761) will start 13th. Kyle Busch (177.684) will start 18th. Busch won last year’s pole for this race.
Harvick told reporters after the race that he missed the final round partly because of this is an impound race.
“With the impound stuff it is a little more difficult to hit the qualifying stuff than what it was when it is a whole qualifying setup,” Harvick said. “We were just too loose. We made a lot of changes to our car for tomorrow and the impound does make it a little difficult to his the setup sometimes.”
Here is all the info for the Saturday Cup race at Bristol:
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines is at 7:38 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:45 p.m.
PRERACE: Cup haulers enter the garage (screening and equipment unload) at 10:30 a.m. Garage access health screening begins at 12:30 p.m. Garage opens at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:10 p.m. Driver introductions will be at 7:15 p.m. The invocation is at 7:30 p.m. The national anthem will be performed by Joe Nichols, three-time Grammy nominee, at 7:31 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile track.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250
TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.
That leaves nine spots for 13 drivers to compete for.
If there is a new winner, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.
– Joey Logano – would clinch with 7 points: 51 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Logano has finished third in the last two playoff races (at Darlington and Richmond). Has made 23 starts at Bristol posting one pole, two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s. Logano’s average finish is 15.3.
– Martin Truex Jr. – would clinch with 20 points: 38 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Earned 22nd-place finish at Darlington and second-place finish at Richmond. Has made 29 series starts at Bristol posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish is 20.6.
– Austin Dillon – would clinch with 21 points: 36 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Dillion has a runner-up finish at Darlington and a fourth-place result last weekend at Richmond. Has 13 starts at Bristol posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish is 17.3.
– Chase Elliott – Would clinch with 30 points: 28 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Elliott finished 20th at Darlington and fifth at Richmond. Has made nine starts at Bristol and has one pole, three top fives and four top 10s. Average finish is 12.6.
– Alex Bowman – would clinch with 31 points: 27 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Bowman placed sixth at Darlington and ninth at Richmond. Has made nine series starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 22.6.
– Kyle Busch – would clinch with 40 points: Just 18 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Has seventh-place finish at Darlington and a sixth-place finish at Richmond. Has made 30 Cup starts at Bristol posting two poles and a series-leading eight wins among active drivers.
– Aric Almirola – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Finished ninth at Darlington and eighth at Richmond. Has made 22 starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 25.0.
– Kurt Busch – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the cutoff sport. Almirola holds the tiebreaker of best finish in the current playoff round. Busch has finished eighth at Darlington and 13th at Richmond. Has 39 Cup starts at Bristol with one pole, six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10s. Average finish is 14th.
– Clint Bowyer – would clinch with 55 points: Three points over cutoff. Finished 10th at Darlington and Richmond. Bowyer has made 29 Cup starts at Bristol with eight top fives and 16 top 10s. Average finish is 13.6.
– William Byron (-3 points from cutoff; would need help to clinch): Finished fifth at Darlington and 21st at Richmond. Five Cup starts at Bristol with one top 10. Average finish of 17.2.
Cole Custer (-8 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 12th at Darlington and 14th at Richmond. Finished 25th in lone Bristol Cup start.
Matt DiBenedetto (-25 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 21st at Darlington and 17th at Richmond. Eleven Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and one top 10. Average finish of 19.1.
Ryan Blaney (-27 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 24th at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. Ten Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and three other top 10s. Average finish of 20.7.
Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.
Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.
“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”
Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.
Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier
STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.