Chase Elliott leads Hendrick Motorsports sweep of Talladega qualifying

Led by pole winner Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports reasserted its domination of superspeedway qualifying on Saturday at Talladega.

The winner at Talladega in April, Elliott toured the 2.66-mile track in 46.692 seconds (192.707 mph) to win his second Busch Pole Award at Talladega, his fourth of the season and the eighth of his career. Hendrick Motorsports swept the top four starting spots for Sunday’s 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Alex Bowman qualified second at 192.552 mph, .040 seconds behind his teammate. William Byron (192.258 mph) earned the third starting spot, followed by Jimmie Johnson (191.566 mph).

Saturday’s session was the second time this year Hendrick cars have swept the top four qualifying positions. Hendrick drivers were 1-2-3-4 in qualifying for the Daytona 500, though they didn’t start the race that way because of subsequent Duel qualifying races.

Once before, in the spring Talladega race in 2011, Hendrick put all four of its cars on the front two rows with Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the pole, followed by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin.

“We had a really fast NAPA Night Vision Camaro there,” said Elliott, who got a boost from qualifying after an early engine failure at Dover dropped him seven points below the current cut line for Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. “It was really faster than I was expecting it to be today, which is nice. And (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and our team do such a good job at these places.

“Really, Hendrick, as a whole, and our body shop and our engine shop doing the job that they do coming to these places and have fast race cars and really, it’s kind of on them. So, I’m really proud of the effort. It was a tough week last week, obviously, so it’s just nice to come back and get a pole. Obviously, it’s a long race and anything can happen. So we’ve got to take advantage of a good pit pick and we’ll go to work from there and see what happens.”

Elliott, Bowman and Byron all are fighting for spots in the Round of 8, but the Hendrick contingent won’t have much help within the Chevrolet camp at the start of the race. The three rows behind the four Hendrick cars are occupied by Fords, with Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano qualifying sixth through 10th, respectively.

Keselowski, Bowyer, Blaney and Logano all are still alive in the Playoffs.

“We’ve had some good runs here, for sure,” said Logano, a three-time winner at Talladega. “We’ve had some really good race cars, and things have gone our way a lot, but I’ve said this all week that superspeedway racing evolves all the time. It never really stays the same for more than two or three races before our competition figures out a new way to beat you, and then you’ve got to come up with something new again. 

“We’ve got to stay open to doing what our competition is doing and trying to do what they do better than them. That’s what we’ve got to try to do, but it seems like now more than ever the teamwork aspect has really come into play more than it’s ever been. I say teamwork, not just Penske – we’re talking about all the Fords or all the Chevys or Toyotas. Everyone really seems to be committed to each other and it’s really changed the game a lot.”  

Erik Jones qualified 11th in the fastest Toyota. The remaining five Playoff drivers qualified as follows: Kyle Larson 12th, Kevin Harvick 15th, Martin Truex Jr. 18th, Kyle Busch 26th and Denny Hamlin 40th. Hamlin didn’t complete his lap before his engine failed.

“I blew up down the back coming to the checkered flag,” Hamlin said. “I was super fortunate that it happened when it did. I told them that I’ve seen some amazing, crazy things happen in my Playoff career, but blowing up on Lap 1 would have set a new precedent for me.

“I’m just super fortunate that it happened when it did. We were 15 seconds away from shutting her down and not knowing until the race started. It was crazy it all ended up the way it did. This was definitely more fortunate than unfortunate.”