Rain washes out qualifying; Larson starts first
April 25, 2014, Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com
RICHMOND, Va. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Kyle Larson will make his first start from the pole position in Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400, after severe weather forced cancellation of Friday’s scheduled qualifying session at Richmond International Raceway.
Larson earned the start from the top position on the grid as the fastest driver in Friday’s opening practice at the 0.75-mile track, which will host the ninth Sprint Cup race of the season Saturday night.
Though Larson isn't credited with an official Coors Light Pole Award because time trials were washed out, he will lead the field to green for the first time in his fledgling Cup career. Larson's previous best starting spot for a Cup race was eighth at Phoenix in March, in the first knockout qualifying session staged in NASCAR's foremost series.
Had Larson not convinced his team to start the opening practice in qualifying trim, however, he probably wouldn't be starting on the front row.
"I wanted to start off in qualifying trim and was able to kind of talk Shine (crew chief Chris Heroy) into doing it," said Larson, whose lap speed of 126.880 mph topped the speed chart in opening practice. "We came here and tested last year for Goodyear and had a good baseline, so I was pretty confident about going out in qualifying trim.
“We really laid down a fast lap, and when we switched over to race trim, we were good in that, too, so I'm excited about that. It's going to be a good race (Saturday). It's nice starting out on the pole. I don't know whether I'll count it as my first career pole, but it's still pretty cool to start on the front row."
Brad Keselowski will start second, with the field ordered fastest-to-slowest from first practice. Clint Bowyer, a two-time winner at the Virgina short track, will start third, followed by Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers.
The storm and the threat of continued severe weather cleared the grandstand and temporarily called a halt to activity at the track. With a tornado watch in effect, track announcers encouraged those fans camping and planning to remain on property to secure their belongings.
Series leader Jeff Gordon starts 25th, with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 10th and 13th, respectively. Michael McDowell and Dave Blaney failed to qualify for the 43-car field.
The National Weather Service had issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning until 5:15 p.m ET. The vicinity of the track is currently under a tornado watch until 9 p.m. ET. The watch means the storm may produce high winds, hail and lightning.