It’s been a long time, but Roush Fenway Racing and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are climbing up the Cup Series ladder once again.
Stenhouse earned just his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career pole and first since his rookie season of 2013 Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway. In qualifying late Saturday afternoon, he positioned a surging RFR to be a contender for Sunday’s GEICO 500.
The fifth-year driver won the pole for the Talladega event with a speed of 191.547 MPH, beating outside pole sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 0.2 seconds. It’s his first pole at a restrictor plate track and the first for RFR since Greg Biffle earned one at Daytona last July.
“The culture at our shop is just different,” Stenhouse said after earning the front row spot. “The guys want to work there. They want to show up to work and work harder. They’re seeing that working harder is making different results for us, so it’s been a blast for Trevor [Bayne] and myself to drive these race cars each week.”
He also led the 41-car first round with a speed of 190.833 MPH. Earnhardt Jr. (190.400 MPH), Keselowski (190.234 MPH), Chase Elliott (190.196 MPH), and Bayne (189.910 MPH) rounded out the top-five speeds.
For Earnhardt, it was his first ever front row starting spot at Talladega after 33 previous attempts. He’ll try and rally a rabid fan base behind him Sunday while posting a victory that would earn a spot in the NASCAR playoffs.
DJ Kennington, driving a limited schedule for Gaunt Brothers Racing, was the lone car that failed to qualify. His No. 96 Toyota was 38th fastest overall, over three-tenths behind the next unchartered car (BK Racing’s Corey Lajoie).
NASCAR used a single-car qualifying format, rather than its usual group one and it worked well. There were no major crashes or mechanical failures during either session.
Stenhouse, Earnhardt, and 38 other drivers will battle on the high banks of Talladega Superspeedway tomorrow in the GEICO 500. Coverage starts Sunday at 2 ET on FOX.