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Martin Truex claims pole at Richmond; third of the season

Martin Truex Jr., grabs a bottle of water as he watches qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., Friday, April 20, 2018. Truex won the pole. (Steve Helber / Associated Press)
Martin Truex Jr., grabs a bottle of water as he watches qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., Friday, April 20, 2018. Truex won the pole. (Steve Helber / Associated Press)
By Hank Kurz Jr. Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Martin Truex Jr. won the pole Friday for the NASCAR Cup Series race Saturday at Richmond Raceway, edging Chase Elliott.

The pole is the series-best third of the season for Truex, the 18th of his career and his first at the 0.75-mile oval.

It’s also a nice turnaround after finishing 37th and 30th in the past two races. Before that, he’d had five straight top-five finishes.

“Definitely a good way to start the weekend,” said Truex, who is seeking his first career short-track victory. “I’d say out of all the short tracks, this is probably the one we’ve probably been consistently the best at and definitely had the most chances to win here. I feel like we’ve run really strong the last few times and led a bunch of laps.

“Definitely feel like we should have won here already,” he said.

Truex’s winning lap came at 123.859 mph.

Elliott, coming off a 29th-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway, is 23rd in the points standings and still seeking his first career victory.

“I thought it was much improved from where we have been,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “You’ve got to take the small victories every now and then in life and especially in the racing world. We are just trying to take those right now. A much better Friday than we have been having.”

Defending race winner Joey Logano will start third, followed by Denny Hamlin.

Both front-row starters hope their success carries over.

“I think it gives you confidence in that the things you are thinking about and planning for are going in the right direction,” Truex said

William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports will start ninth, his best career start and the best among rookies. Teammate Alex Bowman will start 11th.

Hamlin bounceback

Hometown favorite Denny Hamlin sounded anything but hopeful after a few rounds of practice, saying “we have some issues, for sure” and “it’s super frustrating from my standpoint and it is for (the team), too.”

His Joe Gibbs Racing team obviously figured some things out. He was fastest in the second round and will start fourth in Saturday night’s race.

“I struggled to make a few corners in practice and we changed a lot of things in the car,” Hamlin said. “I mean so many things that really don’t change here at this race track. We try to get better and I felt like we did get a little better, but still we fell off quite a bit.”

That would be no

Absent penalties against his team that cost them points, Chase Elliott would be 15th in the standings.

Does he think about how different things might be then?

“I have not,” he said, “because we are not 15th and we do not have the points we were penalized for, so it is irrelevant.”

Something for Joey

Joey Logano was pretty excited to be back at Richmond, where he’s the defending race champion.

“This is the closest we’ve been all year long to a pole and with speed in the car,” he said after qualifying third. “I think we learned some things.”

OOPS: Kyle Busch, seeking his third consecutive victory in the series, made a miscalculation during the opening round of qualifying, making only two laps and thinking it would be enough.

It wasn’t, and he finished 31st in the round.

“We were trying to short-cut it a little bit,” he said of his desire to preserve its tires for the later rounds.

Way back

Kyle Busch isn’t the only prominent name starting in the back half of the field.

Brad Keselowski will start 28th and Kasey Kahne 29th.

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