Kenseth returns to take pole for All-Star race

CONCORD, N.C. — Matt Kenseth is hoping Friday night’s qualifying is a sign better times are ahead.

Kenseth’s return to racing is already paying big dividends for Roush Fenway Racing after he grabbed the pole for Saturday night’s NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kenseth agreed to return to race on a limited schedule this year for his original team after being dumped by Joe Gibbs Racing last year. He will start alongside RFR teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the front row.

“I’m just getting started, so I am still in the catch-up mode,” Kenseth said. “I’m trying to get caught up to Ricky and just get running.”

Kenseth started his full-time premier series career with the Roush team in 2000 before leaving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.

However, his contract wasn’t renewed after struggling last season.

He agreed in April to return to Roush Fenway Racing, where he will split time in the No. 6 Ford with Trevor Bayne for the remainder of the season. Kenseth’s first race was last week at Kansas, where he wrecked with 15 laps to go.

Kenseth believes capturing the pole will be a shot in the arm for Roush, which has struggled this season to compete with the top cars.

“It’s neat to have both cars on the front row,” Kenseth said. “We have two cars coming out of the shop right now and obviously … the goal is to put the cars on the front row.”

Fords claimed six of the top 10 spots in qualifying.

Kevin Harvick, who comes in as the hottest driver in the field with five Cup Series wins including the last two, at Dover and Kansas, qualified fourth in his quest to take home the $1 million first-place prize.

Restrictor plates: For the first time ever, cars will run a restrictor plate similar to those used on the big speedways in Talladega and Daytona.

The cars will also carry a six-inch spoiler on the rear deck, a 2014-style front splitter and aero ducts with the idea to increase the passing opportunities. NASCAR had some success with that setup in the Xfinity Series, which used a similar package on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year, producing a record-setting number of lead changes.

The format: This year’s All-Star race will feature a four-stage format — 30 laps, 20 laps and 20 laps followed by a 10-lap shootout.

Elsewhere:

n Marco Andretti could be the pole favorite for the Indianapolis 500. He’s certainly been the most consistently fast driver all week in practice.

Then again, nobody’s really sure what to expect when the new IndyCars start qualifying Saturday.

Andretti posted the fastest lap practice Friday, getting around the 2.5-mile oval at 231.802 mph after drivers were given a boost of roughly 50 horsepower.

“I think we’re right on the bubble of the top nine,” he said. “And I think it’s going to take us to nail it to get it in. As with probably five or six other guys, we’re going to be right there with them, and I think it’s going to be all about a third and fourth lap. We’re just going to have to nail it and do everything right to get it in.”

n Vice President Mike Pence gave Indianapolis 500 fans a big surprise on Fast Friday.

He tried to be just a regular guy.

The former Indiana governor mingled with folks, signed autographs, posed for photos after making an impromptu stroll to Gasoline Alley and then to the pit wall at his favorite track.

“We didn’t know if he was going to walk to the garage or not,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles said. “But he said, ‘I’d like to visit the team garages’ and then he said ‘I’m not leaving till I walk out on pit lane.'”

COMMENTS