Tony Stewart turned NASCAR’s first 200-mph qualifying lap on an intermediate track Friday. He just did it too soon to win the pole for the Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.
The top spot went to Matt Kenseth, who had a final-round lap of 199.299 while Stewart slipped to sixth after winning the second round at 200.111 mph on the high-banked 1 1/2-mile track.
“To be able to say we’re the first guy on a mile a half to run 200, that’s pretty cool I think,” said Stewart, who is coming off his first top-five finish since March after taking fourth last weekend at Martinsville. “Of course we were trying for the pole, but I missed the corner a little bit.”
Kenseth topped the eight drivers eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a lap that also broke the previous Texas qualifying record of 198.282 set by Kevin Harvick in April.
In fact, there were 44 laps over three rounds that broke Harvick’s previous record. Nine of the 12 in the final round were faster than the April mark.
“It’s crazy fast,” Kenseth said. “It just amazes me every time you qualify here how fast you can go, especially when it cools off a little bit.”
Currently holding the last of the four championship-round spots with two races left before the finale at Homestead, Kenseth was the first driver out in the 5-minute final round. He hit the track with about 3 1/2 minutes to go, and his lap held up.
“That was probably the right time for us to go,” said Kenseth, who’s on the pole for the first time in 25 Texas races and the 13th time in 542 career races. “I don’t know how much difference it made or if it made any difference, but it seemed like a good time.”
Jeff Gordon will be outside on the front as one of five Chase qualifiers starting in the top 10. The others are Harvick (fifth), Ryan Newman (seventh), and Joey Logano (10th).
Carl Edwards qualified 11th and Denny Hamlin was at No. 20.
Brad Keselowski was the lowest of the Chase qualifiers at 26th. His only worse start was 33rd at the season-opening Daytona 500.
Kurt Busch qualified fourth and Danica Patrick was 27th with their new crews. Stewart-Haas Racing last week announced it would swap crews between the two drivers. Tony Gibson took over Busch’s team, and Daniel Knost was named interim crew chief for Patrick.
Stewart won the pole at Texas in April before finishing 10th. He’s starting in the top 10 for the fourth time in five races. All three of his laps broke Harvick’s mark from April. His fastest lap was the first at Texas under 27 seconds (26.985).
“I just knew after we ran the first run … and I had to lift off of (turn) four all the way on the gas,” Stewart said. “I was like, ‘Man, if I could have stayed in it, I guarantee it was going to be a 26-something. Just didn’t know what it would have been.”
It was a NASCAR first for Texas and tracks like it.