The weekend leading up to Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway hasn’t been a good one for Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team, considering the severity of penalties handed to them by NASCAR after their Kansas Speedway race engine from a weekend ago failed inspection. But driver and team bounced back, at least somewhat, to claim the pole starting spot with a 20.716-second lap at Richmond during qualifying on Friday. It’s the second-straight pole for Kenseth and company.
“It was really good — man, we picked up nine-tenths from practice or something,” Kenseth said. “Jason Ratcliff (crew chief) and the whole team made some great adjustments. The car was better than I could have ever expected. I don’t know where it will end up, but we will be proud of that one.”
Kenseth’s interim JGR teammate, Brian Vickers in a substitute role for the injured Denny Hamlin, posted the second-fastest lap in qualifying to give Joe Gibbs Racing a front-row sweep on the Saturday night starting grid.
“Maybe I just should have pushed it a little bit harder getting in the corner,” Vickers said. “The track picked up a lot of speed.”
Jeff Gordon was fastest in the final practice earlier in the day on Friday, but when qualifying rolled around, he was third.
While Joe Gibbs Racing claimed the front row, Hendrick Motorsports took the second. Joining Gordon on the second row for the green flag on Saturday will be his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne.
Qualifying fifth through 10th were Clint Bowyer, Juan Montoya, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Mark Martin. Both JGR and Michael Waltrip Racing put all three of their cars in the top-10 in qualifying (JGR — Kenseth, Vickers, Busch; MWR — Bowyer, Truex, Martin).
The number of cars entered matched the number of cars needed for a full race field (43), so every driver who made a qualifying attempt made the race.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR