Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano continued his momentum Friday scoring his first pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Logano fresh off his Daytona 500 victory put down the fastest lap of the day in the final session with a speed of 194.683. The session wasn’t without controversy however.
NASCAR delayed the start of qualifying by 15 minutes after as nearly half of the field was still struggling to make it through inspection. When the clock started for the first round, 13 cars were still in tech and failed to make qualifying. Those who missed the session included Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
“This is absolutely embarrassing,” Gordon who will start 35th on owners points Sunday, said. “To not even get a chance to go on the track is ridiculous. The fans deserve an apology”
“It’s a big letdown for m and for our series that this happened,” he added. “Because this should never happen”
Thirty-four cars did make the first round. Logano led the 24 who advanced with a lap of 194.240 followed by Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kyle Larson. Kevin Harvick led the 12 in the second round who advanced to the final round with a lap of 194.118
Harvick went out early in the final round behind Ryan Newman and put down the fastest lap; Edwards soon followed and was third behind Hamlin, but it was Logano who came out with just over a minute and half to go and put down the fastest lap of the day at 194.683. Kasey Kahne was the last car to set a time but he came up short and Logano won his first pole of the year, Harvick settled for second, McMurray third, Hamlin fourth and Edwards fifth. The pole is Logano’s ninth career pole and his first at Atlanta.
As Logano celebrated his first pole of the year, Gordon talked about the qualifying delay. According to the four-time champion it was the first time in his long career that he had failed to attempt to qualify because his car was still being inspected.
“To not even get a chance to go out on the race track is ridiculous,” Gordon said.” I know the fans deserve an apology. I don’t know how many cars there must be back here (the garage) that never even got a chance to go on the track. I know we went through twice. When you have this many…..I’ve seen five or six or even 10 cars that have issues going through (tech) with certain little things. But this many cars that didn’t go; that’s not on these teams. And they deserve better than this. I can’t believe how disappointing this is.”
Gordon wasn’t sure what had happened to delay qualifying. Many of the crew chiefs, as well as other competitors could be heard grumbling throughout the garage area.
“There is something wrong,” Gordon said. “Or there is something wrong with the system. Or there is something wrong with the amount of time they allot to get through. There is no way this many good cars, talented people that they can’t figure out how to get these cars through inspection. These guys are too smart.”
NASCAR Sprint Cup director Richard Buck later met with the media. He said the issue was with teams and that the NASCAR inspections went as the always do given that the system is completely automated.
“I think we saw different areas where teams were pushing the limits,” Buck said.”We’ve got a new rules package here and we did see teams pushing the limits, but that’s their jobs, they’re trying to get every bit that they can.”
Going forward Buck doesn’t expect the delays to continue. NASCAR is not known for delays in scheduled times beyond weather.
“We’ll get our arms around it and have a look at it with the garage area and get their input, and put a good plan together,” Buck said. “The garage area, those guys will help you figure it out and we’re strong at NASCAR, we’ve been doing this a long time, we’ll tweak it where we have to to get it right.”
“A new downforce package, new rules package, new under pan, less horsepower,” Buck added. “So there was a lot of things that were put into this recipe that the cooks, if you will, in the garage area were trying to get the recipe right, and they were pushing the edge on everything.”
At the end of the day Friday, perhaps the only happy driver was Joey Logano. A week after his win in the season opening Daytona 500, Logano will lead the field to the green Sunday in the Fold of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FOX).
“Hopefully, we’ll finish where we start,” Logano said. “It’s been an amazing few weeks if you think about the Daytona 500 and everything that comes along with that, and then coming down here to Atlanta and starting first is special, especially for me here at this race track.”
“I don’t know what’s going on lately,” a smiling Logano added. “Everything is going well and we’re just trying to keep the old train rolling here. It’s going great and we’ll see what happens on Sunday.”
The full qualifying results from Friday can be found here. Sunday’s complete lineup can be found here.