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TMS Producing Big Speed As Stewart Cracks 200 MPH Barrier in Qualifying

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 1 2014

Tony Stewart broke the 200 mph barrier during qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Chase driver Matt Kenseth won the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, but it was a qualifying run by non-Chaser Tony Stewart that was raising the level of discussion at the 1.5-mile quad-oval in Forth Worth.

During a run in the second round of three-round qualifying, Stewart topped the 200 mph mark.

And Stewart said his record lap, which took 26.985 seconds, could have been even better.

“We were going to be probably down to a 26.75 or 26.80 if I would have finished getting through (Turn) 4,” Stewart said. “I got real tight and had to lift all the way out of the gas in the first round and still ran a 27.10, so it was going to be a big monster lap in the first round, but that’s not the one that pays.”

Kenseth, when asked about the speeds and, specifically, Stewart’s lap at 200.111 mph, said they were the result of the condition of the TMS surface.

“It’s crazy fast so it’s been a while since they paved the track and the asphalt is very worn and abrasive,” Kenseth said. “It just amazes me every time you qualify here how fast you can run, especially when it cools off a little bit and the grip level there – especially being on three-cycle tires. It’s incredibly fast. It’s amazing you can go around there with that much throttle in a Cup car for sure.”

In Friday’s practice, Brian Vickers posted the top speed. At 199.218, it was off Stewart’s pace but it was still plenty fast.

In all, six drivers came within 2 mph of 200 in practice.

Jeff Gordon, the current points leader who qualified second, made an uneasy joke about the speeds the cars were turning on Friday.

“If you hit something, yeah,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said when asked if the cars were going too fast at TMS.

Gordon’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, who qualified third fastest, played it a little more straight when he was asked the same question.

“It depends on what you’re after,” Johnson, who has been eliminated form the Chase playoff, said. ” The faster we go, the narrower the track is and the less side-by-side racing you’ll have. One thing that we do have working for us is that this is an abrasive race track. You can move around. But if this was a repave at this speed, you wouldn’t be to a second lane and you’d be pretty much single file. Oddly enough, you know you’re going fast but somehow the team and the feel you look for, they get the car pretty stuck to go that fast. You’re laughing and are pretty surprised that the car is sticking. Qualifying probably 25th was worse than qualifying on the pole. The guy at that speed was probably sliding around a lot more than the pole position was.”

Stewart’s lap established a track qualifying record as he became the first driver to record a 200-mph qualifying lap at TMS. His lap of 200.111 mph easily eclipsed the previous qualifying mark of 198.282 mph set by Kevin Harvick at April’s Duck Commander 500.

Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) registered a lap of 199.299 miles per hour (27.095 seconds) in the third and final round of knock-out qualifying with a lap of 199.291 mph. It was Kenseth’s second pole of the season, 13th of his career and first in 25 starts at Texas Motor Speedway.

“We’ve been getting a hard time for not winning anything this year, so small victories I guess,” Kenseth said. “It’s pole night and that’s the best driving car I’ve had at an intermediate (track) all year by far, hands down. These guys did a great job, good adjustments throughout this qualifying – we got a little better every round and got that last lap just by the smallest of margins. I feel like as a group (JGR) we keep getting better.

“I thought we had a really good test at Homestead (earlier this week) and really kind of stumbled on a few things at the end of the test I was hoping would help here — and it seemed to so far. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve really got to get her to drive good tomorrow and hope we can get it up there Sunday.”

Among other Chasers, Kevin Harvick qualified fifth, Ryan Newman seventh,  Joey Logano 10th, Carl Edwards 11th.

Denny Hamlin will start 20th and Brad Keselowski will start 26th.

“We want to be on the pole,” Keselowski said. “That is what we are here for. We just didn’t have enough to get that done. That is unfortunate but there are other guys out there that worked real hard and beat us so we will continue to work hard and try to be ready for the race.”

Ask if he is concerned about starting Sunday’s race near the back of the field, Keselowski said,  “Yes and no. If you have a great car it works its way out. I am concerned with making sure we have a great car for Sunday’s race.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 1 2014
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