On a brutally hot day at Chicagoland Speedway, Paul Menard earned his second career Monster Energy NASACAR Cup Series pole.
Menard’s best lap of 180.012mph was 0.022s faster than the Wood Brothers car’s previous occupant, Ryan Blaney, who will start second after a lap at 179.880mph.
This marks the first Cup pole in 10 years for Menard, who won his first pole at the July Daytona race in 2008.
“We weren’t very good in practice,” said Menard, who was 15th and 24th in two practice sessions before leading the first round of qualifying. “We did a mock run, I was so loose we had to abort it. Car had speed in all three of those rounds. We got a little too loose in Round 2, and adjusted for it, and Round 3 drove like Round 1 so it was good.
“All the Fords have been fast all year, and we’ve been on the back side of that with the 21,” he added. “We’re playing catch-up a little bit. New group of guys I mean none of us have really worked together before, so we’re all learning each other. Really proud of all of them.”
Blaney admitted it was tough to lose to pole by that small a margin, but “if I had to lose to anybody it’s cool to lose to my former team, Wood Brothers.
“And Paul, they’ve done a good job all year. Cool they got themselves a pole this year, but I think our PPG Ford Fusion is pretty fast, we got better each round. That’s something this team does a really good job of, improving round to round. That’s what you need. Can’t thank everybody enough for working in this heat all day, everybody sticking around, it’s a long day for these guys out here.”
Chase Elliott, who went to the infield care center after the Xfinity Series race to receive fluids before qualifying, will start third after a lap of 179.748 mph.
“I felt like I got all I could,” Elliott said. “I don’t really know what I could’ve done different in that last round. It was good, much better than we have been qualifying, so it was nice and hopefully turns out that way tomorrow.”
On preparing for the expected heat during tomorrow’s race, Elliott said, “Well, those two bags of fluids I just got at least helps a lot. Obviously, tonight will be important to get back hydrated. The Cup cars are a little cooler than the Xfinity cars.”
Denny Hamlin qualified fourth, followed by a trio of Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola in fifth, sixth and seventh. Brad Keselowski, Team Hendrick rookie William Byron and Erik Jones round out the top 10.
Among those failing to advance to the final 12 were points leader Kyle Busch, Xfinity Series race winner Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick, who was edged out in the final seconds of Round 2 by a Keselowski run.
“We were just too loose,” Harvick, who finished second earlier Saturday to Larson in the Xfinity race, told NBC Sports. “We changed a lot on our car from practice, we were too tight in practice, but the impound stuff is a little bit more difficult to hit the qualifying stuff than when it was when it’s a whole qualifying setup.”
All cars went through post-qualifying inspection, and four times were disallowed. Martin Truex Jr will start 36th; Hamlin, who had qualified fourth, will start 37th; Jimmie Johnson will start 38th; and Chris Buescher will start 39th in Sunday’s Overton’s 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The cars will be impounded after inspection.