Kyle Larson said he almost changed out of his driver suit once he thought he no longer had a shot in qualifying Friday for the Monster Energy All-Star Race.
Good thing he didn’t.
Larson wound up not just advancing but thriving. He earned the pole position after qualifying concluded for Saturday night’s main NASCAR Cup Series exhibition with a $1 million grand prize.
Larson had to win a segment of the Open last year to qualify. He needed no such option this year, entering with the title of Cup Series point leader and a win from Fontana back in March. His time of 112.626 mph was fast enough to edge Kyle Busch for the number one spot.
The unique qualifying format for the All-Star Race featured two rounds. Both consisted of three laps with a four-tire pit stop in the middle, sans pit road speed limits. The total time from the start of the first lap until the completion of the third lap served as the qualifying time.
The top-five drivers advanced to the second round while everyone else was locked into place from round 1 results. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the last to qualify for this year’s All-Star Race before this weekend was slowest among the 16 competitors and will only start ahead of the four transfers from the Open and Fan Vote.
As is usually the case in All-Star Race qualifying, a few drivers ran into trouble on their trip down pit lane. Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, and Jamie McMurray all overshot their pit stall and had to back up. Ryan Newman slid sideways in turn 4 but held on for his entry into the pits.
During the final round, Johnson powered down pit road and slid completely past his box, having to back up for his crew to service the car. Kurt Busch would have earned the pole but he was penalized 10 seconds for having two loose lugnuts, handing the top spot to Larson.
“I’m excited about getting the pole because I wasn’t expecting to qualify this good,” he said. “Starting up front is a big deal.”
The fourth-year driver came close to winning the All-Star Race last season before hitting the wall pursuing Logano late in the race. Larson will automatically transfer to the final 10 laps of this 70-lap event by winning any of the race’s first three 20-lap stages.
Catch all the action of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1. The preliminary racing of the All-Star Open starts shortly at 6.