NASCAR Notebook: Twas the night before Texas

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A look at all the story lines from the Texas Motor Speedway.

With smoke billowing in victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart celebrated his first pole in over two years.

As the penultimate car on the track, Stewart’s No. 14 Chevy crossed the start-finish line with a lap of 195.454 mph just seconds after the final session ended.

Still, it’s hard to believe that 53 races have passed since Stewart won his last pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September 2012. Considering what the three-time Cup champion endured over the last seven months between his sprint car wreck at Iowa last August and the multitude of changes at Stewart-Haas Racing in the off-season -- it’s commendable what he and his organization has accomplished.

And Stewart is at the center of the comeback.

“I’m not normally a qualifier, but our first round we were 16th and I didn’t think I ran a very strong lap,” Stewart said. “So I felt like I could do better the second round and we were second quick after that. The third round it was just a matter of waiting until the end trying to let the tires cool off as much as we could. Got out and had a really good lap.

“Chad Johnston (crew chief) did an awesome job making an adjustment there at the end and got us freed up a little bit. It was a little too much, but it was good enough to get us where we needed to be. It was a really strong lap.”

Stewart, who posted his 15th career Cup pole, will share the front row with Brad Keselowski. Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards round out the top five qualifiers

Stewart wasn’t the only driver from the SHR stable to steal the spotlight on Saturday. Harvick set a new qualifying record – not only for TMS but for all intermediate tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit with a lap of 198.282 mph.

Despite recent mechanical setbacks, Harvick, who posted the team’s first win at Phoenix last month, brimmed with optimism.

“Honestly, I don’t even think we’ve scratched the surface as a team,” Harvick said. “We’re still trying to get all the cars built and everything organized and flowing exactly how it needs to flow in the shop and the fab shop with all the stuff that we’ve changed over the winter with adding a whole new team and bringing in new crew chiefs.

“And I think everybody, and as you can see with the No. 14, just getting their feet on the ground and getting to where we’re competing for poles and competing for wins and having the speed in the car hasn’t been the issue for the No. 4 team as we’ve gone through the weeks. And I think we’ve just got a few things to clean up and things are going to be coming together even better.”

In a year of transition – whether it’s the debut of Harvick’s No. 4 team, the addition of Kurt Busch and rookie crew chief Daniel Knost or the coupling of Stewart and his new crew chief Chad Johnston – SHR appears primed to make a statement in 2014.

“The whole organization has been doing an awesome job,” Stewart said. “Obviously we are coming in a week after Kurt’s win which is a great feeling for us. This is the first time I have been able to do something impressive for the team so I’m excited about that. We have got a good year started. To get two of our cars wins already. For us to get a pole, that is something that we are pretty proud of right now.”

NOT ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID, BUT…

When Brad Keselowski posted a lap of 195.419mph, he thought his second pole of the season was in hand.

That was until Tony Stewart bumped him with a surprise attack in the final moments of qualifying and knocked the Penske racer to second.

Polesitter Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Chevrolet
Polesitter Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Chevrolet

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

“Of course we’re disappointed,” Keselowski said. “We wanted to sit on the pole, but it wasn’t meant to be. Tony obviously put down a great lap there at the end. I didn’t see that one coming. I thought we had it, but that’s why they do it this way.

“It’s really exciting and I think a lot of fun to watch and, quite honestly, it’s a lot of fun to participate in this new format of qualifying. We came up short, but we still have a lot to be proud of starting on the front row. We want to make that count, so hopefully we can pull that off. We did a lot of practice in race runs and not a lot of work in qualifying trim, so I guess that’s a good omen for starting up front as well. We’ll take it and move on.”

Since NASCAR instituted the new knock-out style qualifying, Keselowski has sat on the front row after five of six sessions. The only race Keselowski failed to move on to the final round of qualifying was last week at Martinsville.

After Jimmie Johnson (16th) missed the final round of qualifying, Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano, who qualified 10th, is the only driver to advance to the final round in all six time trial attempts.

INSURANCE PACKAGE

With Austin Dillon feeling under the weather Saturday morning, his brother Ty ran a few laps in the No. 3 Chevy just in case a substitute was needed on Sunday.

But the elder Dillon regained his spunk in time for qualifying and will start 21st in the Duck Commander 500.

“I just felt terrible yesterday,” Dillon said. “Today we turned around, the car was much better. I felt much better…I think it was just a 24 hour bug, virus thing.”

Lee Spencer

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Special feature
Tags lee spencer, nascar notebook, texas motor speedway, twas the night before