While he’s regularly been in the news thanks to his relationship with fellow Sprint Cup rookie Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has had a relatively quiet rookie campaign on the track.
But on Friday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he made some noise by taking the pole for Sunday’s Advocare 500 as part of a 1-2 performance in qualifying for Roush Fenway Racing.
Stenhouse threw down a lap at 189.688 miles per hour in the No. 17 Ford to notch his first career Cup pole. Joining him on the front row for Sunday will be the man he knocked off for the honor – his RFR teammate, Carl Edwards, who turned in a lap at 189.021 mph.
While quick not to take it as a sign of progression in his inaugural Cup campaign, Stenhouse feels that he and his team are starting to find a rhythm in a season that has yet to see them earn a Top-10 finish.
“It’s a fast lap on Friday – there’s no doubt about it, it doesn’t translate and doesn’t automatically go into the race,” said Stenhouse. “We’ve got 500 miles here, but I do feel like the last few weeks we’ve been a lot better than we were at the beginning of the year.
“…I’ve learned a lot this year and it’s not fun not running up front and being consistently in the top 10 and top 5, but that’s still our goal.”
Edwards had taken to the high line on his qualifying run, which appeared to be the fast way around the 1.5-mile oval – until Stenhouse managed to beat him by running on the bottom in his attempt.
“I give Ricky a lot of credit for not changing his line after seeing how fast we were on top,” said Edwards. “That’s really tough to stick to your guns and stick to what you know, so he did a great job.”
Juan Pablo Montoya was third-fastest and will be joined on Row 2 by Denny Hamlin, who is competing with a sprained right thumb he sustained in the same crash last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway that broke the wrist of Martin Truex Jr.
Jeff Gordon and Bristol winner Matt Kenseth make up Row 3, followed by Truex and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Row 4, and Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson in Row 5.