Greg Biffle celebrates winning the pole for Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Associated Press photo.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — With time running out in Friday afternoon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup practice session at Bristol Motor Speedway, Greg Biffle was sitting 11th on the speed charts and looking for a boost.
So his team sprung into action, making a change to the front-end geometry on his No. 16 Ford with nine minutes left in the practice session. The adjustment was a shot in the dark, but it wound up hitting the bull’s-eye.
When Biffle took the track for his qualifying lap, his car was good enough to turn a lap good enough to hold off A.J. Allmendinger by one-thousandth of a second and win the pole for Sunday’s Food City 500.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of how hard my team is working,” Biffle said. “I still wasn’t happy with where the car was, and I wanted one more change. My guys got me out with about 2½ minutes left.
“I got one more run in, and that made the difference today of being on the front row.”
Winning his 10th career pole — the first of his career at BMS — was just another high point in what is turning out to be a fast start to the season for Biffle’s team. He entered Bristol as the points leader and continued flexing his Roush-Yates horsepower by turning a lap of 15.324 seconds at 125.215 mph.
“So far this season, I have had four weeks that I’ve had superior cars,” Biffle said. “I know that this isn’t going to last all season, but I’m enjoying the hell out of it right now.”
While Biffle’s qualifying lap was a continuation of a hot start, Allmendinger hopes the lap that will allow him to start on the outside of the front row becomes the start of a turnaround after a snake-bitten beginning to his first season at Penske Racing.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Allmendinger said of the slow start. “A lot of it’s been bad luck. Some of it has been jelling together. But obviously, these race cars are fast.
“We’ve shown the speed — that’s the stuff we have to build on. It takes one race to build momentum, so hopefully that’s what we can do.”
Allmendinger, who replaced Kurt Busch in Penske’s No. 22 Dodge during the offseason, posted a 15-325-second lap that narrowly missed clipping Biffle.
Both drivers were able to outpace Ryan Newman, the guy who earned the nickname “Rocket Man” by laying down a record-breaking qualifying lap at BMS in 2003. Newman followed up a fourth-place finish in Las Vegas with a 15.331-second pass in Bristol to lock down the third starting position.
“We were close,” Newman said. “We got a good starting spot, a good pit selection — that’s everything you can ask for going into a weekend at Bristol.”
Newman shook off some bad early-season luck with his top-five finish at the Vegas track last week. His performance remained under the radar, however — his boss, Tony Stewart, won the race — but it provided the No. 39 team some momentum nonetheless.
“I think performance-wise we’ve been pretty good,” Newman said. “I think that our cars have been good. We got the monkey off our back at Vegas.
“I’m real proud of the guys. It’s obviously been a hectic start to the season, but they’ve done an excellent job.”
Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski will round out the starting five on Sunday’s starting grid. Keselowski won the Irwin Tools Night Race in August while Gordon led the most laps en route to a third-place finish.
Kyle Busch has had plenty of success in Bristol lately, but he struggled to a 13th-place effort on Friday. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 18th on Sunday, and Jimmie Johnson and Stewart will roll off 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
Timmy Peters was not fast enough to make the 43-car field, and Robby Gordon withdrew from the race before even making a qualifying attempt.