Almirola grabs Atlanta pole to pace a Ford Mustang 1-2-3

Image by Thacker/LAT

Almirola grabs Atlanta pole to pace a Ford Mustang 1-2-3

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Almirola grabs Atlanta pole to pace a Ford Mustang 1-2-3

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A Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang was fastest in all three rounds of qualifying at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but it’ll be an unexpected one leading to the field to the green flag on Sunday.

Aric Almirola knocked teammate Clint Bowyer from the top spot in the final round with a lap time of 181.472 mph. Bowyer had been fastest in both Round 1 and 2.

Bowyer topped the charts early but slipped to third. Image by John K Harrelson / LAT

With the quickest lap for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, Almirola earned just his second career pole award and his first since Charlotte in 2012.

“We knew our car had a lot of raw speed in it, and through the rounds — and with the adjustments that [crew chief] Johnny [Klausmeier] was making — we kept making it better,” said Almirola. “Then that final round … [It was] really good execution by the whole team, the changes that the engineers and Johnny made to the car, and honestly, the car that the guys brought. We had a really good car right off the truck.

“In that final round, I knew that my second lap was going to be faster than the first. I hit all my marks perfectly and it was good enough — a really fast lap to get the pole, which is really cool because I haven’t had one in like seven years.”

Stenhouse Jr.’s Roush Ford grabbed outside front row. Image by Matthew T. Thacker / LAT

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing) jumped to second fastest late in the round to qualify on the outside pole. Stenhouse’s best lap was 180.427 mph, while Bowyer completed a Ford 1-2-3 with a lap of 180.410 mph.

Completing the top five was Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin at 180.327 mph, and a third SHR driver, Daniel Suarez, who clocked in at 180.216 mph.

Starting sixth through 10th will be Kyle Busch (179.941 mph), Kyle Larson (179.842), Kurt Busch (179.795), Martin Truex Jr. (179.696), and Austin Dillon (179.597).

The fourth SHR car — Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 — qualified 18th. Harvick called the day a “complete waste of time” as his team battled steering issues throughout.

Harvick was dogged all day with steering issues. Image by Nigel Kinrade / LAT

“Our car won’t steer, it won’t turn to the right,” said Harvick. “And we can’t figure out what’s wrong with the steering to make it go straight.

“It’s been a bit of a challenge today…

PENALTIES: Matt Tifft and BJ McLeod served final practice penalties at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and their car chiefs were ejected. Both the No. 36 and No. 52 cars failed pre-qualifying inspection twice.

Tifft (Front Row Motorsports) and McLeod (Rick Ware Racing) will serve their 15-minute penalties Saturday afternoon. Each car chief has been ejected for the remainder of the weekend.

Late out of the garage because of the issue, Tifft made it on track with less than three minutes remaining in Round 1 of qualifying and clocked in 31st fastest for Sunday’s race.

McLeod was the only driver of the 37 entered who did not attempt a qualifying lap as his No. 52 did not make it out of the garage.

UP NEXT: Final practice at 12:00 p.m. ET Saturday.

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