This has not been a good year for track records in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Perhaps it was to be expected with the advent of the new Generation 6 car, but coming into today’s qualifying at Dover International Speedway, 16 tracks had seen their record for fastest qualifying lap eclipsed over the course of the 2013 season.
Dover was not one of them, as back in June, warm temperatures kept speeds down a little bit, and Jeremy Mayfield’s 2004 record of 161.522 mph remained intact. But that wasn’t the case on Friday, when the skies were largely overcast and temperatures were in the upper 60s.
The result was the fastest qualifying session Dover’s ever seen in a stock car setting, with six drivers posting speeds faster than Mayfield’s mark. The fastest of those six was Dale Earnhardt, Jr, who picked up his 13th career pole and his first ever at Dover International Speedway with a lap of 161.849 mph, completing his mile in 22.243 seconds.
“The car had really good speed and really good balance right off the trailer,” Earnhardt said. “It felt like we were really competitive – more so than we’ve been here in the past, especially in practice. The grip in the car was just really over the top. I thought we’d be competitive enough to get inside the top 10 really easy.
“So we just made a couple changes that we typically make between practice and qualifying. I think the car had maybe another half a tenth or tenth into it. It’s just a really good car. Most of the credit goes to the guys preparing a car throughout the week that unloaded so close.”
Now Earnhardt will have an opportunity to shake the Monster that has been on his back at Dover over the years. He’s only won once in 27 starts in the First State, and that was back in the fall of 2001. Including that win, he only has five top-five finishes at the track, and has an average finishing position of 18th in the last six years.
It’ll also put Earnhardt in a potentially good spot to pick up some ground in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but the driver everybody’s chasing will start right next to him. Matt Kenseth qualified second and was just a six-thousandth of a second slower than Earnhardt. In fact, it was so close that Kenseth thought it might have been him on the pole if the sun hadn’t come out from behind the clouds just as he was headed out to qualify.
“We just got too free and lost too much time,” Kenseth said. “If we’d just had it close to what we had in practice I thought we’d have a shot at the pole, and I can’t say that too often. The track changed quite a bit with the sun coming out, and I thought we were going to be free. There’s not a lot you can do out on pit road aside from some air pressure adjustments.”
Kenseth is looking for his third consecutive win and all the benefits in the point standings that would come with it. He has a starting leg up on the two drivers immediately behind him – Kyle Busch qualified 14th and Jimmie Johnson qualified eighth.
Ryan Newman qualified third, while Carl Edwards will start fourth and Aric Almirola fifth even though the two drivers had the exact same qualifying speed of 161.609 mph. Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Johnson, Kurt Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. round out the top 10.