When the stars of the Sprint Cup Series take the green flag to start Sunday's AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, an unfamiliar face will lead the way.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won his first career pole on Friday evening. NASCAR.com's Reid Spencer reports that he turned in a fast lap of 189.688 miles per hour. The lap took 29.227 seconds to complete and was one-tenth of a second quicker than outside pole-sitter and teammate Carl Edwards.
The rest of the top five starters are Juan Pablo Montoya, defending race winner Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon. Only 43 cars attempted to make the starting field, so no drivers failed to qualify for the race.
The pole win comes as a mild surprise for Stenhouse, as his previous best qualifying effort in Sprint Cup competition was a third-place start at Kansas earlier in the season. This will mark just his fifth top-10 start in 30 career races in the top series.
Stenhouse was understandably pleased with the effort. According to the above NASCAR.com report, he told reporters after the qualifying session:
It's finally good to get something accomplished this year. We have not gotten much accomplished of what we thought we should of the goals that we were setting out to get.
I felt really good about our race car. We ran a lap at the end of practice on new tires, and looking at the guys that also made runs right there at the end (of practice), we stacked up right there with them… The draw was a huge benefit to us, and it’s good to finally get something accomplished. It was a lot of fun today, and hopefully we can run strong in the race.
By winning his first career pole, one can only wonder if this could lead to the first career top-10 finish for Stenhouse. Through 24 races of his first full-time season in Sprint Cup competition, he has yet to finish inside the top 10, with a couple of 11th-place efforts being his best results.
The Sprint Cup Series drivers will have two Saturday practice sessions to prepare for Sunday night's race. The first practice is for 55 minutes, beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET. Happy Hour runs for 50 minutes and will begin at 6:00 p.m. ET.
Sunday night's AdvoCare 500 in Atlanta is the second-to-last event before the Chase for the Championship gets underway. The green flag is set to wave at approximately 7:46 p.m. ET, and the race can be seen on ESPN.