LONG POND, Penn. – Paul Menard led the way for Team Chevy at Pocono Raceway to qualify third for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the 31st Annual Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR. He powered his No. 37 Menard’s/Sylvania Chevrolet around the 2.5-mile track with a speed of 179.582 mph in 50.397 seconds. It was his third top-10 start, and best career start, at Pocono. It was his second in 14 races this season.
Second-fast for the bowtie brigade was Regan Smith, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet; and third quick was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevy.
Kasey Kahne posted the 10th quickest speed in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy, Jamie McMurrray was 11th in the No. 1 Banana Boat Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon drove his No. 24 DuPont Chevy to the 12th quickest time; giving Team Chevy six (6) of the top-12 starting spots.
Other Chevrolet qualifiers for Sunday’s race are Juan Pablo Montoya, who starts 17th in his No. 42 Target Chevy, Ryan Newman qualified 18th in the No. 39 HAAS Automation Chevrolet, and Jeff Burton will start 20th in the No. 31 The Armed Forces Foundation Chevy. Current NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will line-up 22nd in his No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet; and five-time title-holder, Jimmie Johnson, will start 24th in the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevy.
Joey Logano (Toyota) won the pole and Carl Edwards (Ford) was second quick in today’s qualifying session.
Sunday’s Pocono 400 takes the green flag at 1:00 p.m. ET and will air live on TNT.
PAUL MENARD, NO. 27 MENARDS/SYLVANIA CHEVROLET – Qualified Third
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW PAVEMENT HERE AT POCONO AND YOUR QUALIFYING RUN? “I think everybody knew that qualifying up until this point, this is probably the most important qualifying session of the year. It’s just going to be hard to pass. We put a lot of emphasis on qualifying. I felt like (turns) one and two went as good as I could have hoped and just got a little bit loose down in turn three and lost some time. Still probably could not have gotten Joey (Logano, pole sitter). The track is really nice actually. The groove is widening out. I’m really glad we are starting on the inside. If we couldn’t be third I would have liked to have been fifth just to be on the inside. The track is widening out in turns one and turn three are getting kind of a half outside groove. It’s just going to continue to get better throughout the race.”
EVERYONE WAS SAYING BEFORE THIS SESSION STARTED THAT SOMEONE WOULD RUN A LAP IN THE 49 SECOND BRACKET WHY DIDN’T THAT HAPPEN? “We kind of saw it at Phoenix too. You go out and the more you run the faster you go. We went to qualify in Phoenix and I don’t think they broke the track record that first time just because the track sat and it didn’t burn in. The first day we tested here it seemed like we could get up to speed quicker here than we could at Phoenix but it sat overnight then to fire off the next day and it was a lot slower then and took a little bit of time. I’m actually surprised that we went that fast with not being on the track all day honestly.”
AFTER YOUR SUCCESS LAST SUMMER AT THE BRICKYARD PEOPLE HAVE COMPARED THESE TWO TRACKS SAYING THEY ARE SIMILAR IN HOW YOU GET AROUND THEM. DID YOU FIND THAT HELPED YOU HAVE THE CONFIDENCE COMING HERE TO POCONO? “They are more similar now; the grip level is a lot closer. Indy is probably the track that has the most grip that we go to. They do an excellent job with the surface. Obviously, this track has a lot more grip now so they are a lot similar. Car wise, set-up wise and what the car needs isn’t the same yet but it’s closer. I haven’t really thought a lot about what we did at Indy outside of it’s the same type of deal you just have to get off the corners and carry speed down these long straight-a-ways. That is what I have been working on during the test and during the practices.”
LOTS OF COMPARISON THIS WEEK ABOUT THE NEW SET-UP WITH THE TRACK BEING CLOSE TO INDY. YOU HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS AT INDY LAST YEAR IS THAT WHAT PUT YOU THIRD ON THE QUALIFYING LIST RIGHT NOW? “With the repave it’s a lot closer to Indy. Indy is still smoother. Indy has got a lot of grip, but it’s pretty close. We are not, set-up wise we are not where we were at Indy. We have been really good in qualifying trim since the test and yesterday. We have been really tight in race trim. The only time the car turns is in qualifying trim. My guys they do a good job with getting the car locked down and finding speed when it counts. We just have to get a little bit better in race trim.”
DID YOU QUALIFY ON STICKERS OR SCUFFS? “We were scuffs.”
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/DIET MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 8TH:
WAS YOUR QUALIFYING LAP WHAT YOU EXPECTED? “Well, not really. We went to bed last night thinking we were going to have a real good opportunity to qualify inside the top five. But we got here this morning and the track was in real bad condition because of a car blowing a motor in Turn 1. It just kind of threw a big curve ball into everybody’s plans. So we didn’t really know what to expect. I got down into Turn 1 and you’ve kind of got to go in there like you want and like you expect, but we just got in there and got loose and slid around through Turn 1, which cost us a little bit of time. The lap was still pretty decent but I was disappointed. I was hoping to get a better lap than that.”
HOW IS THE CAR FOR SUNDAY’S RACE? “I’m pretty happy with the car and the speed we’ve had. We’ve been here for four days and everybody’s tail is whopped and everybody is ‘bout tired of each other (smiles). But we’re trying to do the best we can. I feel good about our car. We’re just ready to get the race started and we’re ready to race since we’ve been here so long. It’s been a lot longer than necessary to get ready for this race and get this track ready and I’m just ready to go. My car has been good. It’s been real good speed-wise.”
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST UNKNOWN AT POCONO? “The biggest unknown is how we’ll be able pass and how bad is the air going to be behind people. I’m afraid that we won’t be able to pass and we won’t be able to run-up on slower cars. It’s a one-groove race track and very aero-dependent and smooth and flat.”
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMER’S INSURANCE CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 10TH:
ON HIS LAP “It felt really good. The car was balanced really well. The engine ran great. The track had plenty of grip. So I was really happy. I thought we would have been a little quicker than what we were, but it was still a good lap. We just have to figure out how to pass cars tomorrow.”
HOW IS YOUR CAR FOR THE RACE? “It was good yesterday in practice. So, the only thing is I think there are a lot of cars that are really good. It seemed like everybody with the grip of the track and the tire combination, there are a lot of fast cars. So, just getting that track position and keeping it will be interesting.”
WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND FOR SUNDAY’S RACE? “Well, just how much the track moves around (is unknown). To me, if it opens up enough on entry to where you can actually go in beside a car and not just have to slow way down if you’re on the outside of a car, I think that’s an unknown. I think as the race goes that will definitely get better.”
REGAN SMITH, NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 7TH
HOW WAS YOUR LAP? “It was pretty uneventful; which, uneventful for us lately is a good thing (smiles). We lost a little bit of speed in a couple of areas; I think the tunnel was one of them. Overall, the car did what I expected it do to, drivability-wise. And that should definitely be a top-15 starting spot which is important here. We’ll see how good it ends up or how bad it ends up. But I’m happy with the guys in the Furniture Row Chevy. We didn’t have much speed during the Wednesday-Thursday test and we worked hard yesterday. I don’t know what we’ve got in race trim. I know we’ve got a car that’s capable of qualifying good so we’ll see what we’ve got for tomorrow.
“The car has been driving fine; we’ve just been struggling for speed. We’re just not going fast, but it’s consistent in race trim. So if it stays consistent, then we’ll take that little bit of give-up to get it at the end of a run. But there are a lot of unknowns for this race. There is a lot that none of us know about, so we’ll have to wait and see how tomorrow plays out.”