Bowyer speeds to sur­prise pole

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Sports - By JENNA FRYER

LAS VE­GAS — Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing surged into the open­ing race of NASCAR’s play­offs with a Clint Bowyer-led sweep of the front two rows at Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way.

Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, mean­while, strug­gled across the board in its prepa­ra­tion for Sun­day’s open­ing play­off race. While SHR put its four Fords in the top four slots, the Gibbs Toy­otas qual­i­fied in the mid­dle of the pack with Erik Jones the slow­est of the 16 play­off drivers.

Gibbs as an or­ga­ni­za­tion is con­sid­ered the fa­vorite in NASCAR’s 10-race run to the Cup cham­pi­onship, and the poor qual­i­fy­ing Satur­day was as sur­pris­ing as Bowyer’s pole-win­ning run. Bowyer had to claw his way into the play­off field, is seeded 15th, and last won a pole 12 years ago to the day at New Hamp­shire.

He’d gone 431 ca­reer starts be­tween poles, and now has three for his ca­reer.

“I did not see this com­ing. This is a sur­prise to me,” he said. “If I just sat on the pole, that car is ob­vi­ously a bul­let.”

The en­tire SHR fleet was fast, with Daniel Suarez qual­i­fy­ing sec­ond, fol­lowed by Kevin Har­vick and Aric Almirola. Suarez is the only SHR driver not in the play­offs.

But some of the play­off par­tic­i­pants said it will take one long run in Sun­day’s race to learn if SHR is truly fast, or if the or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cused specif­i­cally on qual­i­fy­ing to earn valu­able track po­si­tion.

“It is pretty ob­vi­ous when you look at the run­down of who has speed and who is di­aled for han­dling,” said reign­ing series cham­pion Joey Logano. “If the Ste­wart-Haas cars have both, we are all in

Clint Bowyer waits on pit road for his turn to qual­ify for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race on Aug. 31 at Dar­ling­ton Race­way in Dar­ling­ton, S.C. trou­ble. It is a trade-off when you come to these places. It is re­ally hard to have both. You can’t have both. You have to make your bed and lay in it.”

Kurt Busch, a Las Ve­gas na­tive, qual­i­fied fifth in a Chevro­let for Chip Ganassi Rac­ing. Chase El­liott was the next high­est play­off driver at eighth in his Chevro­let for Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports.

Denny Ham­lin at 13th was the best of the Gibbs con­tin­gent, while Kyle Busch was 20th, Martin Truex Jr. 24th and fi­nally Jones in 26th.

“It’s just frus­trat­ing, you hold it wide open and you hope to go fast, but it’s not where we want to be,” Jones said.

Logano qual­i­fied 22nd, four spots be­hind team­mate and de­fend­ing race win­ner Brad Ke­selowski, as Team Penske also strug­gled in qual­i­fy­ing be­cause it placed its em­pha­sis on han­dling over speed.

“We should know about 20 laps in who re­ally has what,” Ke­selowski said.

Other items of note from Las Ve­gas:

WAL­LACE’S BIG FIN­ISH

Bubba Wal­lace didn’t make the play­offs but still ar­rived in Las Ve­gas in a cel­e­bra­tory mood. He scored a hard-fought third-place fin­ish last week­end at Indianapol­is Mo­tor Speed­way, one of the iconic tracks on the NASCAR cir­cuit.

It was Wal­lace’s first top-10 fin­ish of the sea­son, and the re­sult of an in­crease in fund­ing of late at Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports.

“I think for our team, it’s a spot­light or a high­light of what our team can do,” Wal­lace said. “The fund­ing is in place, but start get­ting re­sources out of that, start get­ting more cars, more peo­ple, just man hours on the car. We can do those types of things and it’s awe­some to see.”

DiBENEDETT­O’S BREAK

Matt DiBenedett­o’s wild ca­reer swing has him in the spot­light at Las Ve­gas, where fans con­tin­u­ously stop the driver to con­grat­u­late him on his hir­ing this week by Wood Broth­ers Rac­ing.

The turn came when Paul Me­nard de­cided to re­tire from full-time rac­ing and urged the Wood or­ga­ni­za­tion to hire DiBenedett­o, who had learned late last month he was out of a job for next sea­son.

“The sup­port has been crazy,” DiBenedett­o said. “It’s been in­ter­est­ing walk­ing around the track or at (the ho­tel) get­ting stopped, to an ex­treme I’m not ac­cus­tomed to that at all — even walk­ing through the garage. It’s def­i­nitely been in­ter­est­ing and crazy how in a cou­ple weeks how much sup­port you can gain and it’s amaz­ing how much peo­ple have grav­i­tated to this story and how much pos­i­tive feed­back there is in such a world where it can eas­ily be neg­a­tive.”

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POLE WIN­NER —

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