Martin Truex Jr. captures pole position for Sunday’s Quaker State 400

Jul 14, 2018; Sparta, KY, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. (78) and NASCAR Cup Series driver AJ Allmendinger (47) race down the front straight away during the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota started Friday’s first round of qualifying from the garage area instead of pit lane but ended up capturing the pole position for Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

Truex pole lap on the 1.5-mile tri-oval was 28.588 seconds at 188.890 mph, just 0.023-of-a-second quicker than Erik Jones (28.611, 188.739). It was his 19th career pole and fourth of the season, having captured the top spot previously at Phoenix, Fontana (where he won the race) and Richmond.

The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series Champion will be going for his second consecutive win at Kentucky Speedway, having lead 152 of 267 laps en route to victory in last year’s race. Truex also had a shot at winning in 2016, leading 46 laps, before a controversial pit-road penalty relegated his Furniture Row Racing team to a 10-place finish.

“The first round, I was a little bit off and then some of it was driver and some of it was car and we just – like we always do – put our heads together and came up with a plan,” said Truex.

“We stepped it up, so it feels good and thanks to everybody at Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development). Starting up front is key, so first pit stall will be good for here and hopefully we can back up what we did last year tomorrow night. It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be fun.”

“Thanks to everybody back in Michigan at Auto-Owners for their support and, hopefully, we give them a heck of a run tomorrow night.”

The first round of qualifying had already begun by the time the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing completed NASCAR’s technical inspection. Truex climbed into the Auto-Owners Insurance Camry while still in the garage area but hit the track with time to spare and turned the 11th-quickest lap of the session at 28.927 at 186.677. Adjustments called for by crew chief Cole Pearn for round 2 proved correct, with Truex earning the top spot with a lap of 28.575 at 188.976.

After Truex and Jones, the balance of the top-12 qualifiers were Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez, and Aric Almirola.

Coverage of Sunday’s 267-lap 400.5-mile race will air live beginning at 5 p.m. MT (7 p.m. ET) on NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and PRN.

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