The reigning Sprint Cup champion, Brad Keselowski, will lead the field to the green flag on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, while the current championship leader, Jimmie Johnson, will have to rally from dead last on the grid.
Keselowski’s lap at 135.922 mph around the “Magic Mile” was enough to give him his first pole of the season, which could prove to be a critical boost for Sunday as he looks to stop a slide that has threatened his chances to make this year’s Chase.
“We are eager to get going, we are hungry and feel like we can do it but I don’t feel a sense of panic,” said Keselowski, who has fallen to 13th in the standings. “There are still two months of racing essentially to get into the Chase. We have fast race cars and if we do our part, we don’t need any help. If we do our part, we don’t even need any luck. We just need to do our jobs and I feel like we have got the team to do just that.”
As for Johnson, he was slated to start on the outside of the front row. But in post-qualifying inspection, the front end of his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed a height stick test on both sides, which were found to be too low.
As a result, his time was disallowed and the five-time Cup champ will have to start 43rd in the Camping World RV Sales 301.
Johnson also had problems going into the qualifying session, saying prior to NASCAR’s ruling that the car had to go through inspection twice because of issues involving the side skirt height and weight placement.
With Johnson knocked back to the rear of the field, Furniture Row Racing’s Kurt Busch will take over P2 on Sunday’s grid after posting a lap at 135.835 mph despite hitting the rev limiter at the start of his qualifying run.
“I was on the rev chip so early, I was like ‘We must be going that fast’ or we even dialed our rev chip back too far,” said Busch. “These guys are just incredible. The things that they are finding and the speed we are bolting on…We are doing okay if we can manage all this weirdness and still be fast.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch will make up Row 2, followed by Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards in Row 3. Denny Hamlin and defending race winner Kasey Kahne will go off from Row 4, and Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya will be in Row 5.
Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit. Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome in 1974. Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.