NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship racer Martin Truex Jr. .UPI/Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell | License Photo
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Only 13 points to the good entering Sunday's Round of 12 cutoff race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Martin Truex Jr. gave himself as much of a cushion as possible, winning the pole for the Hellman's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway during Saturday's knockout qualifying session.
Seventh in the Chase standings, and 13 points ahead of Joey Logano and Austin Dillon, Truex covered the 2.66-mile distance in 49.508 seconds (193.423 mph) to claim the Coors Light Pole Award for Sunday's race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN) that will trim the Chase field from 12 drivers to eight.
"It's definitely cool," said Truex, who has never won a restrictor-plate race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. "You come here, and you don't really have a whole lot to say as a driver when it comes to qualifying, so obviously proud of the team and proud of everybody in Denver and proud of everybody at the race track for their efforts.
"Built a brand new car to come here, and it's awesome to be the fastest guy in town. Excited about that, and obviously everybody at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) who builds the engines has done a great job too. It takes a lot to get a restrictor plate pole, so excited for all those guys and really neat to lead Toyota to their 1,000th start (in NASCAR's top three series combined). Hopefully, we'll be able to get the victory when the day is over."
Truex didn't allow a pre-qualifying inspection issue to derail his effort. Before his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota rolled out onto the grid, NASCAR confiscated a non-conforming jack screw from the car and required the team to replace it with a legal part.
The pole was Truex's first at Talladega, his fourth of the season and the 11th of his career. Truex was .015 seconds faster than four-time Talladega winner Brad Keselowski (193.365 mph), who will start on the outside of the front row.
Keselowski is 11th in the standings, seven points behind Logano and Dillon.
"It's good to qualify up front," Keselowski said. "I think it's a good confidence boost. I feel like when we have cars that qualify well here, we race well. The Miller Lite Ford was really fast here in qualifying, and hopefully it will stay the same for Sunday.
"It's been a good track for us, but past success is no guarantee. You have to go out and put the work in, and I think we're ready to do just that."
Chase drivers Matt Kenseth (193.189 mph) and Chase Elliott (193.166 mph) will start third and fourth, respectively. Elliott is 12th in the Chase standings, probably needing a victory in Sunday's race to advance to the Round of 8.
"As we all know, qualifying here is all about the guys back in the shop preparing these cars," Elliott said. "The Hendrick Engine shop gave me great speed, and the guys gave me an excellent car for tomorrow.
"Qualifying here at Talladega isn't a make-or-break-you deal. I think it's good. I think our car has decent speed, and hopefully that will show up on Sunday."
Roush Fenway racing drivers Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., both non-Chasers, will start from the third row after qualifying fifth and sixth, respectively.
Other Chase drivers qualified as follows: Kurt Busch (seventh), Denny Hamlin (eighth), Dillon (ninth), Carl Edwards (13th), Kyle Busch (14th), Joey Logano (16th), Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Kevin Harvick (22nd).
Johnson and Harvick already have earned spots in the Round of 8 by virtue of their respective victories at Charlotte and Kansas, leaving six berths available to the remaining 10 drivers.
NASCAR will meet and discuss the non-conforming jack screw on Truex's car during its weekly competition meeting, but Scott Miller, NASCAR's senior vice president of competition, characterized the imposition of a points penalty that would affect the Chase standings as "unlikely."
"I would say it would be unlikely, but it has to go through our process," Miller said. "We don't typically do that on a weekend, and because this is the playoffs, everybody has a heightened sense of everything.
"But this is really no different than things that we've done all year. We'll treat this one like just like we've done all year long."
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying -- Hellmann's 500
Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016
1. (78) Martin Truex Jr (C), Toyota, 193.423 mph.
2. (2) Brad Keselowski (C), Ford, 193.365 mph.
3. (20) Matt Kenseth (C), Toyota, 193.189 mph.
4. (24) Chase Elliott # (C), Chevrolet, 193.166 mph.
5. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 193.123 mph.
6. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 192.975 mph.
7. (41) Kurt Busch (C), Chevrolet, 192.746 mph.
8. (11) Denny Hamlin (C), Toyota, 192.610 mph.
9. (3) Austin Dillon (C), Chevrolet, 192.177 mph.
10. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 192.123 mph.
11. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 192.039 mph.
12. (55) Reed Sorenson, Toyota, 188.300 mph.
13. (19) Carl Edwards (C), Toyota, 192.131 mph.
14. (18) Kyle Busch (C), Toyota, 192.039 mph.
15. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 192.039 mph.
16. (22) Joey Logano (C), Ford, 192.012 mph.
17. (48) Jimmie Johnson (C), Chevrolet, 191.704 mph.
18. (99) Ryan Reed(i), Ford, 191.700 mph.
19. (88) Alex Bowman(i), Chevrolet, 191.627 mph.
20. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 191.466 mph.
21. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 190.962 mph.
22. (4) Kevin Harvick (C), Chevrolet, 190.768 mph.
23. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 190.393 mph.
24. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 190.162 mph.
25. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 190.026 mph.
26. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 190.004 mph.
27. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 189.891 mph.
28. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 189.755 mph.
29. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 189.688 mph.
30. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 189.643 mph.
31. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 189.612 mph.
32. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 189.515 mph.
33. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 189.242 mph.
34. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 188.775 mph.
35. (93) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 188.419 mph.
36. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 188.086 mph.
37. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 187.993 mph.
38. (32) Bobby Labonte, Ford, 187.368 mph.
39. (83) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Toyota, 186.765 mph.
40. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 186.358 mph.
1 driver failed to qualify:
41. (35) David Gilliland, Ford, 188.089 mph.