FORT WORTH, Tex. – Ryan Blaney may have exited the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the desire to win has left the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford.
Running the fastest lap of the day in the final round of Friday’s knockout qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway, Blaney sped around the 1.5-mile track in 26.932 seconds (200.505 mph) to earn the top starting spot for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
In winning his first Busch Pole Award at Texas, his third of the season and the fifth of his career, Blaney fell just short of the track record (26.877 seconds at 200.915 mph) set by Kurt Busch in November of last year. Nevertheless, Blaney’s lap in the money round was the second fastest ever run on a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.
Blaney, who paced the first round but fell to eighth in the second, beat playoff driver Clint Bowyer (200.230 mph) by .037 seconds when it counted. Kevin Harvick (199.941 mph) qualified third, as Ford drivers swept the top five spots on the grid and seven of the top eight.
“We just seemed to get tighter round to round,” Blaney said. “We just kept freeing it up, and I messed up Round 2 pretty bad. I got really greedy in (Turn) 1 and drove in there too deep. So we freed it up even more, and I backed my entry up, and that helped it out …
“It felt really fast. That’s what you get with this nighttime qualifying. High speeds. Speeds pick up, and it has been cool here today. We’ve had a really good Ford all day, and it is nice to back it up in qualifying. It doesn’t mean a lot if you are fastest in practice and blow it in qualifying … I’m excited to see how it is in race trim in Saturday’s practice.”
With Aric Almirola qualifying fourth and Kurt Busch eighth, Stewart-Haas Racing placed all four of its drivers in the top seven, and all four are still in contention for the series championship. Brad Keselowski was fifth fastest, giving Team Penske two drivers in the top five.
Toyota driver Denny Hamlin was seventh with the only non-Ford in the top eight. Team Penske driver Joey Logano — already qualified for the Nov. 18 Championship 4 race at Homestead by virtue of last Sunday’s victory at Martinsville, was eighth quickest after topping the second round at 200.267 mph.
Playoff driver Martin Truex Jr. will start 13th on Sunday after Almirola bumped him out of the final round by .001 seconds.
“I got a little loose on Turn 3 in my last lap there,” Truex said. “If I didn’t mess that up, I probably would have been in. It’s a sensitive track, really fast. For whatever reason, we’ve been off qualifying since they redid this place.
“I haven’t quite figured out what I need for qualifying. In our race trim, we’ve been really good here. We’ll see. We’ll work harder on it (Saturday in practice) and see on Sunday.”
Chase Elliott, winner of two Playoff races, will start 16th. Ninth-place qualifier William Byron, Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, was the only Chevrolet driver to crack the top 12.