Erik Jones claimed pole for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the opening race of the NASCAR Playoffs.
Jones, who starts the playoffs 10th after the regular-season standings were reset for the 16 playoff drivers, drove his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry around the 1.5-mile oval in 28.705 seconds (188.121mph) for his second career pole. His first came at Bristol in August 2017.
“I knew we had a good car in practice but I didn’t know if we were gonna have the speed to get the pole, ” Jones said. “The track kind of came to us and I figured I knew what we needed to do adjustment-wise and so did Chris [Gayle, crew chief], and we were just able to get the Dewalt Camry the way it needed to be and put together a really good lap. Definitely can’t start it off any better than that.”
The 22-year-old Jones, who won the July Daytona race, admitted it will be a hard 400-mile battle in the Nevada sun on Sunday.
“It’s a long race, and with the heat it’s going to make it even tougher. I’m learning more and more how to run these hot races, they’ve never been my forte, but it definitely feels good to get a pole on a hot, slick track, and really somewhere that I don’t feel like I’m necessarily on my best track.”
Starting alongside Jones on the front row will be Joey Logano, who set a qualifying lap of 188.101 after leading the day’s only practice session.
“Man, I hate being that close [to the pole],” Logano said. “Just didn’t quite finish the turn, mainly in 1 and 2, I felt like I was a little off in 3 and 4 as well. Just got a little past the center, and couldn’t get the gas down in time, waiting on that was a little too long.”
Denny Hamlin will start third, followed by playoff points co-leaders Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
The top 11 are all playoff drivers. Starting sixth through 11th are Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Just as he was in practice, Jamie McMurray was the fastest non-playoff driver in 12th.
Martin Truex Jr. jumped from 23rd to seventh as time expired to reach the round of 12, and moments later Kyle Busch squeaked in, knocking out Brad Keselowski, who missed out by 0.001s. Busch was 24th fastest in the first round to grab the last spot to the next round.
“Everybody’s giving it all,” a disappointed Keselowski said. “Track’s a little dynamic there, changing. Thought I put it in the right groove, but it is what it is and we’ll start 13th and work up from there. I blew Turn 3 and 4 by a mile. I was in the wrong groove.”
Five playoff drivers failed to advance to the top 12: Bowyer (15th), Almirola (16th), Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Austin Dillon (18th).
The winner of the last two Vegas races has started on the front row.
UP NEXT: Two practices on Saturday at 10 a.m. local time (Pacific)/1 p.m. ET and 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET.