March 7, 2014
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Team Penske has this system down cold.
A week after Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski grabbed both front-row starting spots in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series knockout qualifying at Phoenix International Raceway, the Penske Ford teammates repeated the feat — in reverse order — Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In the first three-session version of the group knockout time trials introduced into the series this season, Logano won the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 in track-record fashion in the five-minute third round with a lap at 193.278 mph (27.939 seconds).
The Coors Light Pole Award was Logano’s first of the season, his first at Las Vegas and the eighth of his career.
“We’re all still learning what the best strategy is, when to go, when to cool your motor off, when to do all this stuff,” Logano said of the new qualifying format. “We have an idea what we want to do. We’ve studied it as much as we can.
“But every time we do this we learn something that we may want to do different next time… All you can do is find the biggest hole that you can [between cars] and make sure you lay down the best lap you can. That’s what I get paid to do.”
In the first qualifying round, which lasted 25 minutes and narrowed the field of drivers eligible for the pole from 48 drivers to 24, every driver who advanced to the 10-minute second round broke Kasey Kahne’s 2012 qualifying record of 190.456 mph.
Brian Vickers, who will start ninth, was fastest in the first round at 192.995 mph, but Logano topped that mark with his money lap in the final session.
Clint Bowyer qualified third at 192.713 mph, followed by rookie Austin Dillon (192.678 mph) and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson (192.596 mph), who ran a lap identical to that of sixth-place starter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. but got the higher position based on last year’s owner points.
Keselowski credited his equipment with much of Team Penske’s recent success.
“When you;ve got fast cars, it makes your life a lot easier, and Team Penske has done a great job of finding that speed in qualifying trim,” Keselowski said. “We need a little but more in race trim. I think we saw that last week in Phoenix (where Keselowski finished third) and on the first day of testing (Thursday) here in Vegas.
“We’ll get a better idea and read for that [on Saturday] when we get back in race trim [for practice], but for qualifying trim, I think we’ve got our cars really refined well for this package, and I’m very proud of where we are.”
Blake Koch, Landon Cassill, Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek and JJ Yeley failed to qualify for the 43-car field.