Update: Las VegasSaturday, March 11, 2017
Brad Keselowski picked up where he left off from last week. He led the final lap of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 and will lead the field to green on Saturday with his first career pole at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Kez does have two previous front row starts, however, and they both factor into this week’s handicap. Keselowski led the field to green in 2013 based on NASCAR’s rule book; he finished third that afternoon, which was the first time in five races on this track that he broke the top-25 mark. The next year, he started on the outside pole and won his first of two career Vegas races. Keselowski has a four-race streak of seventh-place finishes or better and should keep that alive.
Martin Truex Jr. qualified on the outside pole with a speed of 193.458 mph. Unfortunately, he will not have the full benefit of that strong effort in time trials. Truex was one of three drivers penalized for taking too much time to get through inspection before qualification.
He failed the templates multiple times and incurred a 15-minute penalty in Saturday’s first practice session. Worse still, Truex did not get to pick his pit stall until almost all of the remaining competitors and that means he is not going to struggle to find the lead at the end of each caution period.
Truex posted the fastest single lap in final practice with a speed of 188.613.
The other two drivers penalized for inspection infractions were Kasey Kahne, who gives up the seventh-best pit selection, and Erik Jones who would have picked eighth.
As a rookie, Jones can ill-afford any setbacks, but he should still be able to challenge for a result in the teens. He was 12th-quick in final practice among 31 drivers who went that far.
Chase Elliott was impressive throughout the weekend, but he slipped when it mattered most. In Friday’s practice, he posted the ninth-fastest single lap, was solid in the first two rounds of qualification, but tried just a little too hard in the final round and starts 12th. That will not matter in race trim. He posted the fastest single lap in Saturday’s first session and backed that up with the quickest 10-lap average.
Elliott posted the second-fastest speed in final practice and was fifth-quick in that session.
Matt Kenseth posted the second-quickest 10-lap average in Saturday morning’s session. He was third-fastest in terms of single-lap speed and rolls off the grid fourth. That combination of speed and durability is a nice mix and should allow him to establish himself among the top 10 for most of the Kobalt 400.
Ryan Blaney posted the quickest 10-lap average in final practice. Like Truex, Kenseth, and Keselowski, he has a great balance of speed and durability. He qualified third for Sunday’s race and should have the second-best pit stall. Blaney scored a top-10 in this race last year and has at least a 50/50 chance of backing that up with another.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pancaked the No. 17 with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in final practice and that will force him into a backup car. He and teammate Trevor Bayne were considered dark horses to finish in the mid-teens, but Stenhouse has hurt his effort. He will be forced to give up his 29th-place position on the grid, while Bayne hangs onto the 20th spot. If a player is deciding between the No. 17 and 6, go with Bayne.
Clint Bowyer was noticeably disappointed following final practice. He landed 29th on the speed chart in that session after complaining of a tight condition. He is going to have to rely on the setups of his teammates in order to contend. Fortunately, he will have a little breathing room Sunday because he rolls off the grid 13th.