UPDATE: The No. 41 of Suarez passed inspection on Saturday confirming his pole win. The No. 6 of Ryan Newman, slated to start 23rd, failed inspection. The No. 77 of Quin Houff, slated to start last, was the only other car to fail inspection.
Daniel Suarez saved the best for last in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying Friday at Kentucky Speedway.
The 27-year-old driver from Monterrey, Mexico, was the last to run a qualifying lap at the 1.5-mile track, and he used the opportunity to knock Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola off the pole for Saturday’s Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Suarez covered the distance in 29.254 seconds (184.590 mph) to beat out Almirola (183.799 mph) for the top starting spot by .126 seconds.
“The car’s been very fast the entire day,” said Suarez, who earned his first Busch Pole Award of the season and the second of his career. “We had probably the fastest car in last practice and the fastest car in qualifying, so I’m very proud of my guys, Ford Performance, Haas Automation — everyone who makes this program possible.”
Suarez, the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, hasn’t won in the Cup Series. Suarez would become the first Mexican driver to earn a victory in NASCAR’s premier series.
“I really want to win so bad,” Suarez said. “I haven’t been in Victory Lane for a while. The last time I was in Victory Lane was in Brazil, and it was in a go-kart race. I have been looking forward to bring a trophy home for a while.
“We have very fast cars. Now it’s up to me to make it happen (Saturday) night.”
Three-time Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski went out early, and his speed (183.443 mph) stood up for the third starting spot, as Ford drivers swept the top three spots on the grid and five of the top seven. Kurt Busch (183.355 mph) was fourth in the fastest Chevrolet, and two-time defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. (182.587 mph) qualified eighth in the quickest Toyota.
“I think that’s our best qualifying effort on a mile-and-a-half (track) this year, so that’s something to be proud of there,” Keselowski said. “I didn’t quite have the speed to get to the pole. I’d have liked to have had a later draw. I think there might have been a bit of speed there, but I don’t know if I could have got … Daniel was a tenth (of a second) and a half … I might have been able to get a half a tenth or tenth.
“All in all, a decent run for our Discount Tire Ford Mustang, and happy for (engine builder) Doug Yates and all the Ford guys to have all three of our cars up front with the Fords, but we’ll see what we have (Saturday).”
Kevin Harvick qualified fifth, followed by Daniel Hemric, Clint Bowyer and Truex. Austin Dillon was ninth, and two-time Kentucky winner Kyle Busch claimed the 10th starting spot.
Keselowski, Truex and Kyle Busch are the only former Kentucky winners in the 36-driver field. Front-row starters have won the last three Cup races at the 1.5-mile track, a good omen for Suarez and Almirola.
The lineup was made official after Saturday’s pre-race inspection. The cars were impounded after Friday’s qualifying session.
Contributing: Staff reports