Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, led the two-car Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) contingent in time trials Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway by qualifying on the pole for the AdvoCare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday. Stewart turned a lap of 29.787 seconds at 186.121 mph on the 1.54-mile oval to score his 14th career Sprint Cup pole, his first of the season and his first at Atlanta.
“This has always been a fun place. The slicker it gets, the more fun it gets,” said Stewart, who won at Atlanta in March 2004, October 2006 and September 2010. “We’ve got a great starting spot now.
“That pole is 100 percent due to my teammate, Ryan Newman. I’m not sure if we’d have run the line I had planned on running if we would’ve been that fast. It’s awesome having a teammate like that. I don’t ever remember being here and seeing anybody run up at the top like he did.”
It was Stewart’s first pole since October 2011 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, and in an ironic twist, it happened on a blue moon. Stewart has now won a pole in three consecutive seasons, a first in his illustrious Sprint Cup career. Stewart doesn’t start from the pole often, but when he does, his results are impressive – two wins and five runner-ups in his 13 previous starts as the top qualifier. Sunday will mark his 489th career Sprint Cup start.
“I’m definitely not known as a qualifier,” Stewart said. “I want to run a good lap every time, but I know the bigger prize is on Sunday.”
Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Medicine Chevrolet for SHR, will start 17th after turning a lap of 30.052 seconds at 184.480 mph.
“Our Army Medicine team exhibits the same mental, physical and emotional toughness of our Soldiers,” said Newman, who has six top-10 finishes in 19 career Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta. “It was OK. I just didn’t get it on the first lap and ran a second one. I picked up, which is really difficult to do here, which tells you how bad my first lap was. That’s like our Army Strong Soldiers – when you get knocked down, you refuse to give up, and you will not accept defeat. The Army Medicine Chevrolet will hopefully be better in race trim. The car wasn’t bad; I just didn’t get a good, clean lap.”
SHR driver Danica Patrick, who is driving the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing via a collaborative agreement with SHR, qualified 23rd with a lap of 30.184 seconds at 183.673 mph. It is the best career qualifying effort for Patrick, who will make just her fifth Sprint Cup start Sunday night and her first at Atlanta.
“It was better than it has been,” Patrick said. “The car felt pretty comfortable. It was much more comfortable getting into the corner, which was something that I was asking for at the end of practice. I appreciate when ‘Zippy’ (Greg Zipadelli) and everybody trusts me and they trust my opinion on what is going on with the car because I’m obviously so fresh to all of this. As a driver, the only thing you can do is trust your gut. If it says loose or it says tight, then it’s kind of what you’ve got to go with. Again, I just appreciate them trusting me.”
Greg Biffle will start on the outside of row one after turning a lap of 29.863 seconds at 185.648 mph. Kyle Busch was third (29.888 seconds at 185.493 mph) while Matt Kenseth (29.916 seconds at 185.319 mph) and Jeff Gordon (29.918 seconds at 185.307 mph) rounded out the top-five.
Forty-seven drivers attempted to qualify for the AdvoCare 500. Those not making the cut in the 43-car field were Michael McDowell, Josh Wise, Stephen Leicht and Mike Bliss.
Chevrolet took the top spot among manufacturers via Stewart’s pole run. Ford was next-best at the hands of Biffle. Toyota was the third-fastest make thanks to Busch, while Sam Hornish Jr. carried the flag for Dodge with the 15th-quickest lap (30.031 seconds at 184.609 mph).
The AdvoCare 500 gets underway at 7:30 p.m. EDT Sunday with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 6:30 p.m.