Rookie Erik Jones won the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole of his career by edging out Kyle Larson in the third and final round of qualifying. The two twenty-something drivers will start side-by side on the front row in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
“It’s a great place to get your first pole,” Jones said. “Bristol’s been really good to me over the last couple years, especially in the Xfinity Series. So to come here now in the Cup car and get this Five-Hour Energy car a pole is just really sweet.”
Jones, a 21-year-old, beat out 25-year-old Larson by three-thousandths of a second. Jones posted a 14.981-second lap at 128.082 miles per hour. Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five.
While every other driver in the field ran their qualifying laps on the low groove, Larson took the high line, and it very nearly landed him on the pole.
“It would have been cool to snooker them and get the pole just because they were all committed to the bottom and I knew the top was better,” Larson said. “But I came up a few thousandths short of the pole, which isn’t bad.”
Martin Truex Jr. qualified sixth, followed by Denny Hamlin, which gave Toyota four of the top seven spots in the field. Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney completed the top 10.
The lone Joe Gibbs Racing entry to miss out on the final round of qualifying was Kyle Busch. Busch laid down the fastest lap in the first round, but he got loose between turns 3 and 4 during both of his attempts in the second round and will roll off 18th on Saturday.
If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to win his final Cup race at BMS, he’ll have to pass a lot of cars. Earnhardt was unable to get out of the first round and will start 31st. Kurt Busch (25th) and Kevin Harvick (29th) also failed to get out of the first round.