Through scorching heat and violent wind storms, Jimmie Johnson showed them all how it was done when he qualified in Kentucky on Friday afternoon. After 42 cars had run their laps Jimmie Johnson waited in the wings to get his run in. Ripping around the 1.5-mile speedway in 29.700 seconds (181.818 mph) was good enough to win the pole for Sunday’s Quaker State 400.
“It was a good lap — qualifying has not been our strong suit in the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “I’m very happy to get this pole today. My Chevy’s bad fast, and I’m looking forward to going racing.
“I’ve had a lot of crashes here over the years. We used to test here a lot back in the day, and Turns 3 and 4 have taken quite a few [No.] 48 race cars from us. To run well last year (third at Kentucky) was really good for me. I came back with a lot of confidence. Conditions earlier today were so slick that it took a while to get the feeling I was looking for, but I think we’re on the right track now.”
Kyle Busch (181.421 mph) qualified second, followed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammateDenny Hamlin (181.147 mph).Kevin Harvick will start fourth after a lap at 180.367 mph, one spot ahead ofRyan Newman (180.337 mph).
Kentucky is best know for the traffic hassles that plagued the race last year but official say they have everything under control this time around. But no one can do anything about the scorching temperatures. The only bright side to the heat, is that it will be cooler at race time as the sun goes down into the evening. Couple the heat with a bumpy race track and there is a volatile mix for frustration and anger to make things even more interesting out on the track.
Kesolowski and Montoya already had issues with each other only 5 minutes into Happy Hour. Kesolowski’s team decided to go to a back up car while Montoya opted to repair the original car. After their on track bump and grind session with each other Kesolowski volunteered to go to the Hauler to discuss the situation.
“The bumps are very difficult to navigate here at Kentucky,” said Brad Keselowski. “It produces a race track that, by its very nature, is hard to be consistent to drive because it’s hard to hit the same bump twice, even in a race car as a supposedly professional driver.
“We can’t hit the same bumps twice, whether it’s passing traffic or tire fall-off that changes the way our car enters the corner. … Each bump you hit changes the way the car drives. So it’s hard to really predict, as a driver, what the car is going to do until it does it when you’re on a bumpy surface. That’s very challenging and requires a more disciplined skill set to drive. It rewards some and obviously doesn’t reward others. It requires a little bit more feel, so I think it rewards some of the more talented drivers, as well.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr was 7th in practice and qualified in 7th as well. His take on the bumps is very simple, engineers need to listen to the drivers input carefully.
Earnhardt says it’s a fine line drivers face in racing on the bumps at Kentucky.
“With our cars, you’ve got to get them close to the ground to get the best aero platform and downforce that you can get. But, you can’t be on the ground too hard and the bumps really make that a challenge for the engineers,” Earnhardt said. “With a bumpy track the splitter is always banging on the ground, so you have to listen to the driver really when it comes to the bumpy tracks. He’ll tell you the splitter is bothering the car and making it tight. It’s kind of tough. That’s really a challenge.”
The high temperature for Sparta on Saturday is expected to be 100 degrees, and it won’t be much cooler at the race’s scheduled 7:45 p.m. ET start time. During Happy Hour on Friday, an excessive heat warning was in effect. It was 95 degrees when the session began, with an on-track temperature of 139 degrees. It is believed to be the highest temperature for an on-track event at Kentucky, topping the old mark of 130 degrees set in an IRL event in 2005.
“Yeah, it is definitely toasty and I am glad it is a night race and not a day race,”Matt Kenseth said. “Hopefully when the sun gets down and cools off a little it will be nicer not just for us but the fans and crews working down there. Getting rid of the sun will help a little bit but it is going to be the hottest race all year, for sure.”
Michael Waltrip said he hadn’t run at a track like this in a couple of years and the hot temperatures made for a cautious driver.
“I picked a heck of a day to come out of retirement,” quipped Waltrip, who hasn’t made a start on a 1.5-mile track since Homestead in the 2009 season finale. “I was just really careful … didn’t want to make a mistake. It was a struggle, but we tested here in the winter when you had more grip and now it’s hotter than it’s ever been and it’s slippery.”