Qualifying for Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was shaping up to be a sentimental story-until Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said "No."
The last driver to make a run in Saturday's final round of knockout qualifying, Stenhouse knocked Dale Earnhardt Jr. off the provisional pole for Earnhardt's last spring race at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
The Coors Light Pole Award was Stenhouse's first since he secured his only previous top starting spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since 2013 in Atlanta. It was the first pole for a Ford driver at Talladega since Travis Kvapil won his only career pole in October 2008.
And it was the first Talladega pole for Roush Fenway Racing since Mark Martin did the honors in both races in 1989.
"It will be nice to lead the field to green," said Stenhouse. "The guys work really hard on these cars. Jimmy Fennig does a great job on the speedway cars. It's just cool. Doug Yates (engine builder) builds some awesome horsepower. With his dad, Robert, not doing as well as we would like, I'd like to dedicate this one to him and all the hard work the engine shop does."
Stenhouse ran 191.547 mph on his money lap, picking up a quarter-second over his first-round effort.
With superspeedway qualifying consisting of one full-field round and a second round to decide the pole between the 12 fastest cars, Stenhouse topped the first round with a lap at 190.833 mph (50.180 seconds), .114 seconds ahead of second-place Earnhardt.
Stenhouse's .201-second margin over Earnhardt in the final round was substantial, but Earnhardt nevertheless was disappointed not to win the pole in what will be his final season in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing.
"We would have loved to have got the pole," Earnhardt said. "Stenhouse and those guys had a really fast car, so congratulations to them and Roush / Yates Engines and all those guys-they had great power. Pretty happy with our car. The Hendrick guys have been doing a great job. We always kind of come down here and find ourselves with an opportunity for the pole.
"Hopefully, we'll get one before the year is out at one of these plate tracks. I know the guys have been so close at Daytona and Talladega for so many years, so it would be great to do it this last season together. Just came up a little short today, but the car is fast and it will be good for Sunday."
Earnhardt did allow, however that he would consider running the Daytona Clash, primarily for pole winners, should he qualify for next year's season-opening exhibition race.
"It's not a points race," said Earnhardt, making room for a possible exception to his retirement.
Brad Keselowski qualified third, followed by matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne, Stenhouse's teammate at Roush Fenway Racing.
Note: D.J. Kennington failed to qualify for the 40-car field.
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---