Kyle Larson bags first career Sprint Cup pole at Pocono

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Kyle Larson has his first official Sprint Cup pole. Is his first Sprint Cup win not too far off?

Larson went to the top early in the final round of qualifying at Pocono Raceway with a lap of 183.438 mph in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

That run around the 2.5-mile oval was able to stand up against the best from Team Penske’s Joey Logano (183.408) and Brad Keselowski (182.700), earning Larson the pole for Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400.

“I had some butterflies going into that last round,” Larson said to Fox Sports. “I knew we’d have a good shot at the pole after the second round and I was nervous. But I hit all three corners as good as I could, so I was excited about that.

“…Everybody at the shop is making the cars faster and faster every week, and we’re getting better and better. I really think a win’s coming soon and that would be great before the Chase starts.”

Larson’s hold on a post-season berth is far from secure. He sits 15th on the Chase Grid but is only four points ahead of fellow Cup rookie and winless driver Austin Dillon, who is in the 16th and final Grid position (four points above 17th-place Kasey Kahne).

That makes securing a win vital for Larson during this final six-race stretch of the regular season.

This is not the first time Larson’s led the field to a green flag this season. The NASCAR Drive for Diversity grad lucked into starting from P1 this past spring at Richmond when rain washed out qualifying; the grid was subsequently set on first practice speeds, and Larson’s lap in that session was the quickest.

Unlike Larson, Logano’s already locked himself into the Chase thanks to his two wins at Texas and the aforementioned spring race at Richmond.

But that didn’t keep “Sliced Bread” from having perhaps a slight hint of frustration after narrowly losing the pole to Larson today.

“It felt so good too – I would’ve put millions of dollars on that lap being the pole, it felt so good,” Logano told Fox about his flyer lap. “[Crew chief] Tod Gordon made great adjustments each run. We talked about it after the first session, being able to keep up with it, and [the car] kept going faster and faster.

“I felt like I nailed all three corners that time and the rest of ’em didn’t really nail all of ’em. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is perfect, I’ve got it this time.’ And then, I got beat. It sucks (laughs).”

Logano’s teammate, Keselowski, will start on Row 2 alongside Kurt Busch, who led the first Cup practice session earlier today.

Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick will start from Row 3, followed by Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray in Row 4. NASCAR’s most popular drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick, go off from Row 5.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – GOBOWLING.COM 400 AT POCONO
QUALIFYING RESULTS
1. 42-Kyle Larson, 183.438 mph
2. 22-Joey Logano
3. 2-Brad Keselowski
4. 41-Kurt Busch
5. 24-Jeff Gordon
6. 4-Kevin Harvick
7. 18-Kyle Busch
8. 1-Jamie McMurray
9. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. 10-Danica Patrick
11. 3-Austin Dillon
12. 5-Kasey Kahne
13. 11-Denny Hamlin
14. 15-Clint Bowyer
15. 55-Brian Vickers
16. 14-Tony Stewart
17. 48-Jimmie Johnson
18. 20-Matt Kenseth
19. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
20. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
21. 31-Ryan Newman
22. 51-Justin Allgaier
23. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
24. 13-Casey Mears
25. 16 – Greg Biffle
26. 99 – Carl Edwards
27. 9 – Marcos Ambrose
28. 43 – Aric Almirola
29. 27 – Paul Menard
30. 38 – David Gilliland
31. 98 – Josh Wise
32. 40 – Landon Cassill
33. 26 – Cole Whitt
34. 32 – Travis Kvapil
35. 36 – Reed Sorenson
36. 23 – Alex Bowman
37. 83 – Ryan Truex
38. 7 – Michael Annett
39. 34 – David Ragan
40. 37 – Dave Blaney
41. 66 – Joe Nemechek
42. 33 – Alex Kennedy
43. 93 – Johnny Sauter

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.