After all the angst of the week, Matt Kenseth is still the fastest.
Kenseth, his team hammered by a slate of NASCAR penalties this week, bounced back Friday by winning the pole for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway with a record speed of 130.334 miles per hour.
Toyota Owners 400 Qualifying
Kenseth’s run smashed the previous record of 129.983 set by Brian Vickers in 2004.
Kenseth’s name has been all across the NASCAR landscape this week after officials penalized his Joe Gibbs Racing team for using an illegal engine in last week’s win at Kansas Speedway. Included in the penalties were 50-point losses for Kenseth and team owner Joe Gibbs, a $200,000 fine and seven-race suspension for crew chief Jason Ratcliff and a suspended owners license for Gibbs.
Following Kenseth in the top five were Vickers (substituting for Denny Hamlin), Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer. All five broke Vickers’ record.
Kenseth, generally a mediocre qualifier, had not won a pole at RIR in 26 previous races at the track.
Gordon said the Kenseth team’s rules issues could have acted as an incentive Friday.
“If being angry and wanting to have revenge makes you better, then yes,” Gordon said. “When things like this happen, you can kind of take it upon yourself as a team to push a little harder and do a little bit more.”
Asked if his team got extra motivation from the news of the week, Kenseth said, “You don’t really know what everybody’s feeling and thinking inside. I think everybody is excited that we won the pole, especially Jason and Coach. I could see a lot of emotion there.”
Kenseth has won only 10 poles in his career. The Richmond pole earned him a spot in next year’s Sprint Unlimited race after NASCAR’s penalty removed that advantage from his Kansas pole win.
“One of our goals this week was to come here and kind of quiet down at least part of the noise [from the penalties],” Kenseth said. “This has not been historically a good place for me qualifying. I was really champing at the bit to get to this track this weekend.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.